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The first six of the seven tales were Christmas productions, the very first (‘A School Story’) having been made up for the benefit of King’s College Choir School. ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’ was printed in Contemporary Review; ‘Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance’ was written to fill up the volume. In ‘A School Story’ I had Temple Grove, East Sheen in mind; in ‘The Tractate Middoth’, Cambridge University Library; in ‘Martin’s Close’, Sampford Courtenay in Devon. The Cathedral of Barchester is a blend of Canterbury, Salisbury, and Hereford.
Two men in a smoking-room were talking of their private-school days. ‘At our school,’ said A., ‘we had a ghost’s footmark on the staircase. What was it like? Oh, very unconvincing. Just the shape of a shoe, with a square toe, if I remember right. The staircase was a stone one. I never heard any story about the thing. That seems odd, when you come to think of it. Why didn’t somebody invent one, I wonder?’
‘You never can tell with little boys. They have a mythology of their own. There’s a subject for you, by the way —“The Folklore of Private Schools”.’
‘Yes; the crop is rather scanty, though. I imagine, if you were to investigate the cycle of ghost stories, for instance, which the boys at private schools tell each other, they would all turn out to be highly-compressed versions of stories out of books.’
‘Nowadays the Strand and Pearson’s, and so on, would be extensively drawn upon.’
‘No doubt: they weren’t born or thought of in my time. Let’s see. I wonder if I can remember the staple ones that I was told. First, there was the house with a room in which a series of people insisted on passing a night; and each of them in the morning was found kneeling in a corner, and had just time to say, “I’ve seen it,” and died.’
‘Wasn’t that the house in Berkeley Square?’
‘I dare say it was. Then there was the man who heard a noise in the passage at night, opened his door, and saw someone crawling towards him on all fours with his eye hanging out on his cheek. There was besides, let me think — Yes! the room where a man was found dead in bed with a horseshoe mark on his forehead, and the floor under the bed was covered with marks of horseshoes also; I don’t know why. Also there was the lady who, on locking her bedroom door in a strange house, heard a thin voice among the bed-curtains say, “Now we’re shut in for the night.” None of those had any explanation or sequel. I wonder if they go on still, those stories.’
‘Oh, likely enough — with additions from the magazines, as I said. You never heard, did you, of a real ghost at a private school? I thought not; nobody has that ever I came across.’
‘From the way in which you said that, I gather that you have.’
‘I really don’t know; but this is what was in my mind. It happened at my private school thirty odd years ago, and I haven’t any explanation of it.
‘The school I mean was near London. It was established in a large and fairly old house — a great white building with very fine grounds about it; there were large cedars in the garden, as there are in so many of the older gardens in the Thames valley, and ancient elms in the three or four fields which we used for our games. I think probably it was quite an attractive place, but boys seldom allow that their schools possess any tolerable features.
‘I came to the school in a September, soon after the year 1870; and among the boys who arrived on the same day was one whom I took to: a Highland boy, whom I will call McLeod. I needn’t spend time in describing him: the main thing is that I got to know him very well. He was not an exceptional boy in any way — not particularly good at books or games — but he suited me.
‘The school was a large one: there must have been from 120 to 130 boys there as a rule, and so a considerable staff of masters was required, and there were rather frequent changes among them.
‘One term — perhaps it was my third or fourth — a new master made his appearance. His name was Sampson. He was a tallish, stoutish, pale, black-bearded man. I think we liked him: he had travelled a good deal, and had stories which amused us on our school walks, so that there was some competition among us to get within earshot of him. I remember too — dear me, I have hardly thought of it since then! — that he had a charm on his watch-chain that attracted my attention one day, and he let me examine it. It was, I now suppose, a gold Byzantine coin; there was an effigy of some absurd emperor on one side; the other side had been worn practically smooth, and he had had cut on it — rather barbarously — his own initials, G.W.S., and a date, 24 July, 1865. Yes, I can see it now: he told me he had picked it up in Constantinople: it was about the size of a florin, perhaps rather smaller.
‘Well, the first odd thing that happened was this. Sampson was doing Latin grammar with us. One of his favourite methods — perhaps it is rather a good one — was to make us construct sentences out of our own heads to illustrate the rules he was trying to make us learn. Of course that is a thing which gives a silly boy a chance of being impertinent: there are lots of school stories in which that happens — or anyhow there might be. But Sampson was too good a disciplinarian for us to think of trying that on with him. Now, on this occasion he was telling us how to express remembering in Latin: and he ordered us each to make a sentence bringing in the verb memini, “I remember.” Well, most of us made up some ordinary sentence such as “I remember my father,” or “He remembers his book,” or something equally uninteresting: and I dare say a good many put down memino librum meum, and so forth: but the boy I mentioned — McLeod — was evidently thinking of something more elaborate than that. The rest of us wanted to have our sentences passed, and get on to something else, so some kicked him under the desk, and I, who was next to him, poked him and whispered to him to look sharp. But he didn’t seem to attend. I looked at his paper and saw he had put down nothing at all. So I jogged him again harder than before and upbraided him sharply for keeping us all waiting. That did have some effect. He started and seemed to wake up, and then very quickly he scribbled about a couple of lines on his paper, and showed it up with the rest. As it was the last, or nearly the last, to come in, and as Sampson had a good deal to say to the boys who had written meminiscimus patri meo and the rest of it, it turned out that the clock struck twelve before he had got to McLeod, and McLeod had to wait afterwards to have his sentence corrected. There was nothing much going on outside when I got out, so I waited for him to come. He came very slowly when he did arrive, and I guessed there had been some sort of trouble. “Well,” I said, “what did you get?” “Oh, I don’t know,” said McLeod, “nothing much: but I think Sampson’s rather sick with me.” “Why, did you show him up some rot?” “No fear,” he said. “It was all right as far as I could see: it was like this: Memento — that’s right enough for remember, and it takes a genitive — memento putei inter quatuor taxos.” “What silly rot!” I said. “What made you shove that down? What does it mean?” “That’s the funny part,” said McLeod. “I’m not quite sure what it does mean. All I know is, it just came into my head and I corked it down. I know what I think it means, because just before I wrote it down I had a sort of picture of it in my head: I believe it means ‘Remember the well among the four’— what are those dark sort of trees that have red berries on them?” “Mountain ashes, I s’pose you mean.” “I never heard of them,” said McLeod; “no, I’ll tell you — yews.” “Well, and what did Sampson say?” “Why, he was jolly odd about it. When he read it he got up and went to the mantelpiece and stopped quite a long time without saying anything, with his back to me. And then he said, without turning round, and rather quiet, ‘What do you suppose that means?’ I told him what I thought; only I couldn’t remember the name of the silly tree: and then he wanted to know why I put it down, and I had to say something or other. And after that he left off talking about it, and asked me how long I’d been here, and where my people lived, and things like that: and then I came away: but he wasn’t looking a bit well.”
‘I don’t remember any more that was said by either of us about this. Next day McLeod took to his bed with a chill or something of the kind, and it was a week or more before he was in school again. And as much as a month went by without anything happening that was noticeable. Whether or not Mr Sampson was really startled, as McLeod had thought, he didn’t show it. I am pretty sure, of course, now, that there was something very curious in his past history, but I’m not going to pretend that we boys were sharp enough to guess any such thing.
‘There was one other incident of the same kind as the last which I told you. Several times since that day we had had to make up examples in school to illustrate different rules, but there had never been any row except when we did them wrong. At last there came a day when we were going through those dismal things which people call Conditional Sentences, and we were told to make a conditional sentence, expressing a future consequence. We did it, right or wrong, and showed up our bits of paper, and Sampson began looking through them. All at once he got up, made some odd sort of noise in his throat, and rushed out by a door that was just by his desk. We sat there for a minute or two, and then — I suppose it was incorrect — but we went up, I and one or two others, to look at the papers on his desk. Of course I thought someone must have put down some nonsense or other, and Sampson had gone off to report him. All the same, I noticed that he hadn’t taken any of the papers with him when he ran out. Well, the top paper on the desk was written in red ink — which no one used — and it wasn’t in anyone’s hand who was in the class. They all looked at it — McLeod and all — and took their dying oaths that it wasn’t theirs. Then I thought of counting the bits of paper. And of this I made quite certain: that there were seventeen bits of paper on the desk, and sixteen boys in the form. Well, I bagged the extra paper, and kept it, and I believe I have it now. And now you will want to know what was written on it. It was simple enough, and harmless enough, I should have said.
‘“Si tu non veneris ad me, ego veniam ad te,” which means, I suppose, “If you don’t come to me, I’ll come to you.”’
‘Could you show me the paper?’ interrupted the listener.
‘Yes, I could: but there’s another odd thing about it. That same afternoon I took it out of my locker — I know for certain it was the same bit, for I made a finger-mark on it — and no single trace of writing of any kind was there on it. I kept it, as I said, and since that time I have tried various experiments to see whether sympathetic ink had been used, but absolutely without result.
‘So much for that. After about half an hour Sampson looked in again: said he had felt very unwell, and told us we might go. He came rather gingerly to his desk and gave just one look at the uppermost paper: and I suppose he thought he must have been dreaming: anyhow, he asked no questions.
‘That day was a half-holiday, and next day Sampson was in school again, much as usual. That night the third and last incident in my story happened.
‘We — McLeod and I— slept in a dormitory at right angles to the main building. Sampson slept in the main building on the first floor. There was a very bright full moon. At an hour which I can’t tell exactly, but some time between one and two, I was woken up by somebody shaking me. It was McLeod; and a nice state of mind he seemed to be in. “Come,” he said — “come! there’s a burglar getting in through Sampson’s window.” As soon as I could speak, I said, “Well, why not call out and wake everybody up?” “No, no,” he said, “I’m not sure who it is: don’t make a row: come and look.” Naturally I came and looked, and naturally there was no one there. I was cross enough, and should have called McLeod plenty of names: only — I couldn’t tell why — it seemed to me that there was something wrong — something that made me very glad I wasn’t alone to face it. We were still at the window looking out, and as soon as I could, I asked him what he had heard or seen. “I didn’t hear anything at all,” he said, “but about five minutes before I woke you, I found myself looking out of this window here, and there was a man sitting or kneeling on Sampson’s window-sill, and looking in, and I thought he was beckoning.” “What sort of man?” McLeod wriggled. “I don’t know,” he said, “but I can tell you one thing — he was beastly thin: and he looked as if he was wet all over: and,” he said, looking round and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself, “I’m not at all sure that he was alive.”
‘We went on talking in whispers some time longer, and eventually crept back to bed. No one else in the room woke or stirred the whole time. I believe we did sleep a bit afterwards, but we were very cheap next day.
‘And next day Mr Sampson was gone: not to be found: and I believe no trace of him has ever come to light since. In thinking it over, one of the oddest things about it all has seemed to me to be the fact that neither McLeod nor I ever mentioned what we had seen to any third person whatever. Of course no questions were asked on the subject, and if they had been, I am inclined to believe that we could not have made any answer: we seemed unable to speak about it.
‘That is my story,’ said the narrator. ‘The only approach to a ghost story connected with a school that I know, but still, I think, an approach to such a thing.’
The sequel to this may perhaps be reckoned highly conventional; but a sequel there is, and so it must be produced. There had been more than one listener to the story, and, in the latter part of that same year, or of the next, one such listener was staying at a country house in Ireland.
One evening his host was turning over a drawer full of odds and ends in the smoking-room. Suddenly he put his hand upon a little box. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘you know about old things; tell me what that is.’ My friend opened the little box, and found in it a thin gold chain with an object attached to it. He glanced at the object and then took off his spectacles to examine it more narrowly. ‘What’s the history of this?’ he asked. ‘Odd enough,’ was the answer. ‘You know the yew thicket in the shrubbery: well, a year or two back we were cleaning out the old well that used to be in the clearing here, and what do you suppose we found?’
‘Is it possible that you found a body?’ said the visitor, with an odd feeling of nervousness.
‘We did that: but what’s more, in every sense of the word, we found two.’
‘Good Heavens! Two? Was there anything to show how they got there? Was this thing found with them?’
‘It was. Amongst the rags of the clothes that were on one of the bodies. A bad business, whatever the story of it may have been. One body had the arms tight round the other. They must have been there thirty years or more — long enough before we came to this place. You may judge we filled the well up fast enough. Do you make anything of what’s cut on that gold coin you have there?’
‘I think I can,’ said my friend, holding it to the light (but he read it without much difficulty); ‘it seems to be G.W.S., 24 July, 1865.’
Mr and Mrs Anstruther were at breakfast in the parlour of Westfield Hall, in the county of Essex. They were arranging plans for the day.
‘George,’ said Mrs Anstruther, ‘I think you had better take the car to Maldon and see if you can get any of those knitted things I was speaking about which would do for my stall at the bazaar.’
‘Oh well, if you wish it, Mary, of course I can do that, but I had half arranged to play a round with Geoffrey Williamson this morning. The bazaar isn’t till Thursday of next week, is it?’
‘What has that to do with it, George? I should have thought you would have guessed that if I can’t get the things I want in Maldon I shall have to write to all manner of shops in town: and they are certain to send something quite unsuitable in price or quality the first time. If you have actually made an appointment with Mr Williamson, you had better keep it, but I must say I think you might have let me know.’
‘Oh no, no, it wasn’t really an appointment. I quite see what you mean. I’ll go. And what shall you do yourself?’
‘Why, when the work of the house is arranged for, I must see about laying out my new rose garden. By the way, before you start for Maldon I wish you would just take Collins to look at the place I fixed upon. You know it, of course.’
‘Well, I’m not quite sure that I do, Mary. Is it at the upper end, towards the village?’
‘Good gracious no, my dear George; I thought I had made that quite clear. No, it’s that small clearing just off the shrubbery path that goes towards the church.’
‘Oh yes, where we were saying there must have been a summer-house once: the place with the old seat and the posts. But do you think there’s enough sun there?’
‘My dear George, do allow me some common sense, and don’t credit me with all your ideas about summer-houses. Yes, there will be plenty of sun when we have got rid of some of those box-bushes. I know what you are going to say, and I have as little wish as you to strip the place bare. All I want Collins to do is to clear away the old seats and the posts and things before I come out in an hour’s time. And I hope you will manage to get off fairly soon. After luncheon I think I shall go on with my sketch of the church; and if you please you can go over to the links, or —’
‘Ah, a good idea — very good! Yes, you finish that sketch, Mary, and I should be glad of a round.’
‘I was going to say, you might call on the Bishop; but I suppose it is no use my making any suggestion. And now do be getting ready, or half the morning will be gone.’
Mr Anstruther’s face, which had shown symptoms of lengthening, shortened itself again, and he hurried from the room, and was soon heard giving orders in the passage. Mrs Anstruther, a stately dame of some fifty summers, proceeded, after a second consideration of the morning’s letters, to her housekeeping.
Within a few minutes Mr Anstruther had discovered Collins in the greenhouse, and they were on their way to the site of the projected rose garden. I do not know much about the conditions most suitable to these nurseries, but I am inclined to believe that Mrs Anstruther, though in the habit of describing herself as ‘a great gardener’, had not been well advised in the selection of a spot for the purpose. It was a small, dank clearing, bounded on one side by a path, and on the other by thick box-bushes, laurels, and other evergreens. The ground was almost bare of grass and dark of aspect. Remains of rustic seats and an old and corrugated oak post somewhere near the middle of the clearing had given rise to Mr Anstruther’s conjecture that a summer-house had once stood there.
Clearly Collins had not been put in possession of his mistress’s intentions with regard to this plot of ground: and when he learnt them from Mr Anstruther he displayed no enthusiasm.
‘Of course I could clear them seats away soon enough,’ he said. ‘They aren’t no ornament to the place, Mr Anstruther, and rotten too. Look ’ere, sir,’— and he broke off a large piece —‘rotten right through. Yes, clear them away, to be sure we can do that.’
‘And the post,’ said Mr Anstruther, ‘that’s got to go too.’
Collins advanced, and shook the post with both hands: then he rubbed his chin.
‘That’s firm in the ground, that post is,’ he said. ‘That’s been there a number of years, Mr Anstruther. I doubt I shan’t get that up not quite so soon as what I can do with them seats.’
‘But your mistress specially wishes it to be got out of the way in an hour’s time,’ said Mr Anstruther.
Collins smiled and shook his head slowly. ‘You’ll excuse me, sir, but you feel of it for yourself. No, sir, no one can’t do what’s impossible to ’em, can they, sir? I could git that post up by after tea-time, sir, but that’ll want a lot of digging. What you require, you see, sir, if you’ll excuse me naming of it, you want the soil loosening round this post ’ere, and me and the boy we shall take a little time doing of that. But now, these ’ere seats,’ said Collins, appearing to appropriate this portion of the scheme as due to his own resourcefulness, ‘why, I can get the barrer round and ‘ave them cleared away in, why less than an hour’s time from now, if you’ll permit of it. Only —’
‘Only what, Collins?’
‘Well now, ain’t for me to go against orders no more than what it is for you yourself — or anyone else’ (this was added somewhat hurriedly), ‘but if you’ll pardon me, sir, this ain’t the place I should have picked out for no rose garden myself. Why look at them box and laurestinus, ‘ow they reg’lar preclude the light from —’
‘Ah yes, but we’ve got to get rid of some of them, of course.’
‘Oh, indeed, get rid of them! Yes, to be sure, but — I beg your pardon, Mr Anstruther —’
‘I’m sorry, Collins, but I must be getting on now. I hear the car at the door. Your mistress will explain exactly what she wishes. I’ll tell her, then, that you can see your way to clearing away the seats at once, and the post this afternoon. Good morning.’
Collins was left rubbing his chin. Mrs Anstruther received the report with some discontent, but did not insist upon any change of plan.
By four o’clock that afternoon she had dismissed her husband to his golf, had dealt faithfully with Collins and with the other duties of the day, and, having sent a campstool and umbrella to the proper spot, had just settled down to her sketch of the church as seen from the shrubbery, when a maid came hurrying down the path to report that Miss Wilkins had called.
Miss Wilkins was one of the few remaining members of the family from whom the Anstruthers had bought the Westfield estate some few years back. She had been staying in the neighbourhood, and this was probably a farewell visit. ‘Perhaps you could ask Miss Wilkins to join me here,’ said Mrs Anstruther, and soon Miss Wilkins, a person of mature years, approached.
‘Yes, I’m leaving the Ashes tomorrow, and I shall be able to tell my brother how tremendously you have improved the place. Of course he can’t help regretting the old house just a little — as I do myself — but the garden is really delightful now.’
‘I am so glad you can say so. But you mustn’t think we’ve finished our improvements. Let me show you where I mean to put a rose garden. It’s close by here.’
The details of the project were laid before Miss Wilkins at some length; but her thoughts were evidently elsewhere.
‘Yes, delightful,’ she said at last rather absently. ‘But do you know, Mrs Anstruther, I’m afraid I was thinking of old times. I’m very glad to have seen just this spot again before you altered it. Frank and I had quite a romance about this place.’
‘Yes?’ said Mrs Anstruther smilingly; ‘do tell me what it was. Something quaint and charming, I’m sure.’
‘Not so very charming, but it has always seemed to me curious. Neither of us would ever be here alone when we were children, and I’m not sure that I should care about it now in certain moods. It is one of those things that can hardly be put into words — by me at least — and that sound rather foolish if they are not properly expressed. I can tell you after a fashion what it was that gave us — well, almost a horror of the place when we were alone. It was towards the evening of one very hot autumn day, when Frank had disappeared mysteriously about the grounds, and I was looking for him to fetch him to tea, and going down this path I suddenly saw him, not hiding in the bushes, as I rather expected, but sitting on the bench in the old summer-house — there was a wooden summer-house here, you know — up in the corner, asleep, but with such a dreadful look on his face that I really thought he must be ill or even dead. I rushed at him and shook him, and told him to wake up; and wake up he did, with a scream. I assure you the poor boy seemed almost beside himself with fright. He hurried me away to the house, and was in a terrible state all that night, hardly sleeping. Someone had to sit up with him, as far as I remember. He was better very soon, but for days I couldn’t get him to say why he had been in such a condition. It came out at last that he had really been asleep and had had a very odd disjointed sort of dream. He never saw much of what was around him, but he felt the scenes most vividly. First he made out that he was standing in a large room with a number of people in it, and that someone was opposite to him who was “very powerful”, and he was being asked questions which he felt to be very important, and, whenever he answered them, someone — either the person opposite to him, or someone else in the room — seemed to be, as he said, making something up against him. All the voices sounded to him very distant, but he remembered bits of the things that were said: “Where were you on the 19th of October?” and “Is this your handwriting?” and so on. I can see now, of course, that he was dreaming of some trial: but we were never allowed to see the papers, and it was odd that a boy of eight should have such a vivid idea of what went on in a court. All the time he felt, he said, the most intense anxiety and oppression and hopelessness (though I don’t suppose he used such words as that to me). Then, after that, there was an interval in which he remembered being dreadfully restless and miserable, and then there came another sort of picture, when he was aware that he had come out of doors on a dark raw morning with a little snow about. It was in a street, or at any rate among houses, and he felt that there were numbers and numbers of people there too, and that he was taken up some creaking wooden steps and stood on a sort of platform, but the only thing he could actually see was a small fire burning somewhere near him. Someone who had been holding his arm left hold of it and went towards this fire, and then he said the fright he was in was worse than at any other part of his dream, and if I had not wakened him up he didn’t know what would have become of him. A curious dream for a child to have, wasn’t it? Well, so much for that. It must have been later in the year that Frank and I were here, and I was sitting in the arbour just about sunset. I noticed the sun was going down, and told Frank to run in and see if tea was ready while I finished a chapter in the book I was reading. Frank was away longer than I expected, and the light was going so fast that I had to bend over my book to make it out. All at once I became conscious that someone was whispering to me inside the arbour. The only words I could distinguish, or thought I could, were something like “Pull, pull. I’ll push, you pull.”
‘I started up in something of a fright. The voice — it was little more than a whisper — sounded so hoarse and angry, and yet as if it came from a long, long way off — just as it had done in Frank’s dream. But, though I was startled, I had enough courage to look round and try to make out where the sound came from. And — this sounds very foolish, I know, but still it is the fact — I made sure that it was strongest when I put my ear to an old post which was part of the end of the seat. I was so certain of this that I remember making some marks on the post — as deep as I could with the scissors out of my work-basket. I don’t know why. I wonder, by the way, whether that isn’t the very post itself. . . . Well, yes, it might be: there are marks and scratches on it — but one can’t be sure. Anyhow, it was just like that post you have there. My father got to know that both of us had had a fright in the arbour, and he went down there himself one evening after dinner, and the arbour was pulled down at very short notice. I recollect hearing my father talking about it to an old man who used to do odd jobs in the place, and the old man saying, “Don’t you fear for that, sir: he’s fast enough in there without no one don’t take and let him out.” But when I asked who it was, I could get no satisfactory answer. Possibly my father or mother might have told me more about it when I grew up, but, as you know, they both died when we were still quite children. I must say it has always seemed very odd to me, and I’ve often asked the older people in the village whether they knew of anything strange: but either they knew nothing or they wouldn’t tell me. Dear, dear, how I have been boring you with my childish remembrances! but indeed that arbour did absorb our thoughts quite remarkably for a time. You can fancy, can’t you, the kind of stories that we made up for ourselves. Well, dear Mrs Anstruther, I must be leaving you now. We shall meet in town this winter, I hope, shan’t we?’ etc., etc.
The seats and the post were cleared away and uprooted respectively by that evening. Late summer weather is proverbially treacherous, and during dinner-time Mrs Collins sent up to ask for a little brandy, because her husband had took a nasty chill and she was afraid he would not be able to do much next day.
Mrs Anstruther’s morning reflections were not wholly placid. She was sure some roughs had got into the plantation during the night. ‘And another thing, George: the moment that Collins is about again, you must tell him to do something about the owls. I never heard anything like them, and I’m positive one came and perched somewhere just outside our window. If it had come in I should have been out of my wits: it must have been a very large bird, from its voice. Didn’t you hear it? No, of course not, you were sound asleep as usual. Still, I must say, George, you don’t look as if your night had done you much good.’
‘My dear, I feel as if another of the same would turn me silly. You have no idea of the dreams I had. I couldn’t speak of them when I woke up, and if this room wasn’t so bright and sunny I shouldn’t care to think of them even now.’
‘Well, really, George, that isn’t very common with you, I must say. You must have — no, you only had what I had yesterday — unless you had tea at that wretched club house: did you?’
‘No, no; nothing but a cup of tea and some bread and butter. I should really like to know how I came to put my dream together — as I suppose one does put one’s dreams together from a lot of little things one has been seeing or reading. Look here, Mary, it was like this — if I shan’t be boring you —’
‘I wish to hear what it was, George. I will tell you when I have had enough.’
‘All right. I must tell you that it wasn’t like other nightmares in one way, because I didn’t really see anyone who spoke to me or touched me, and yet I was most fearfully impressed with the reality of it all. First I was sitting, no, moving about, in an old-fashioned sort of panelled room. I remember there was a fireplace and a lot of burnt papers in it, and I was in a great state of anxiety about something. There was someone else — a servant, I suppose, because I remember saying to him, “Horses, as quick as you can,” and then waiting a bit: and next I heard several people coming upstairs and a noise like spurs on a boarded floor, and then the door opened and whatever it was that I was expecting happened.’
‘Yes, but what was that?’
‘You see, I couldn’t tell: it was the sort of shock that upsets you in a dream. You either wake up or else everything goes black. That was what happened to me. Then I was in a big dark-walled room, panelled, I think, like the other, and a number of people, and I was evidently —’
‘Standing your trial, I suppose, George.’
‘Goodness! yes, Mary, I was; but did you dream that too? How very odd!’
‘No, no; I didn’t get enough sleep for that. Go on, George, and I will tell you afterwards.’
‘Yes; well, I was being tried, for my life, I’ve no doubt, from the state I was in. I had no one speaking for me, and somewhere there was a most fearful fellow — on the bench I should have said, only that he seemed to be pitching into me most unfairly, and twisting everything I said, and asking most abominable questions.’
‘Why, dates when I was at particular places, and letters I was supposed to have written, and why I had destroyed some papers; and I recollect his laughing at answers I made in a way that quite daunted me. It doesn’t sound much, but I can tell you, Mary, it was really appalling at the time. I am quite certain there was such a man once, and a most horrible villain he must have been. The things he said —’
‘Thank you, I have no wish to hear them. I can go to the links any day myself. How did it end?’
‘Oh, against me; he saw to that. I do wish, Mary, I could give you a notion of the strain that came after that, and seemed to me to last for days: waiting and waiting, and sometimes writing things I knew to be enormously important to me, and waiting for answers and none coming, and after that I came out —’
‘What makes you say that? Do you know what sort of thing I saw?’
‘Was it a dark cold day, and snow in the streets, and a fire burning somewhere near you?’
‘By George, it was! You have had the same nightmare! Really not? Well, it is the oddest thing! Yes; I’ve no doubt it was an execution for high treason. I know I was laid on straw and jolted along most wretchedly, and then had to go up some steps, and someone was holding my arm, and I remember seeing a bit of a ladder and hearing a sound of a lot of people. I really don’t think I could bear now to go into a crowd of people and hear the noise they make talking. However, mercifully, I didn’t get to the real business. The dream passed off with a sort of thunder inside my head. But, Mary —’
‘I know what you are going to ask. I suppose this is an instance of a kind of thought-reading. Miss Wilkins called yesterday and told me of a dream her brother had as a child when they lived here, and something did no doubt make me think of that when I was awake last night listening to those horrible owls and those men talking and laughing in the shrubbery (by the way, I wish you would see if they have done any damage, and speak to the police about it); and so, I suppose, from my brain it must have got into yours while you were asleep. Curious, no doubt, and I am sorry it gave you such a bad night. You had better be as much in the fresh air as you can today.’
‘Oh, it’s all right now; but I think I will go over to the Lodge and see if I can get a game with any of them. And you?’
‘I have enough to do for this morning; and this afternoon, if I am not interrupted, there is my drawing.’
‘To be sure — I want to see that finished very much.’
No damage was discoverable in the shrubbery. Mr Anstruther surveyed with faint interest the site of the rose garden, where the uprooted post still lay, and the hole it had occupied remained unfilled. Collins, upon inquiry made, proved to be better, but quite unable to come to his work. He expressed, by the mouth of his wife, a hope that he hadn’t done nothing wrong clearing away them things. Mrs Collins added that there was a lot of talking people in Westfield, and the hold ones was the worst: seemed to think everything of them having been in the parish longer than what other people had. But as to what they said no more could then be ascertained than that it had quite upset Collins, and was a lot of nonsense.
Recruited by lunch and a brief period of slumber, Mrs Anstruther settled herself comfortably upon her sketching chair in the path leading through the shrubbery to the side-gate of the churchyard. Trees and buildings were among her favourite subjects, and here she had good studies of both. She worked hard, and the drawing was becoming a really pleasant thing to look upon by the time that the wooded hills to the west had shut off the sun. Still she would have persevered, but the light changed rapidly, and it became obvious that the last touches must be added on the morrow. She rose and turned towards the house, pausing for a time to take delight in the limpid green western sky. Then she passed on between the dark box-bushes, and, at a point just before the path debouched on the lawn, she stopped once again and considered the quiet evening landscape, and made a mental note that that must be the tower of one of the Roothing churches that one caught on the sky-line. Then a bird (perhaps) rustled in the box-bush on her left, and she turned and started at seeing what at first she took to be a Fifth of November mask peeping out among the branches. She looked closer.
It was not a mask. It was a face — large, smooth, and pink. She remembers the minute drops of perspiration which were starting from its forehead: she remembers how the jaws were clean-shaven and the eyes shut. She remembers also, and with an accuracy which makes the thought intolerable to her, how the mouth was open and a single tooth appeared below the upper lip. As she looked the face receded into the darkness of the bush. The shelter of the house was gained and the door shut before she collapsed.
Mr and Mrs Anstruther had been for a week or more recruiting at Brighton before they received a circular from the Essex Archaeological Society, and a query as to whether they possessed certain historical portraits which it was desired to include in the forthcoming work on Essex Portraits, to be published under the Society’s auspices. There was an accompanying letter from the Secretary which contained the following passage: ‘We are specially anxious to know whether you possess the original of the engraving of which I enclose a photograph. It represents Sir ——— — Lord Chief Justice under Charles II, who, as you doubtless know, retired after his disgrace to Westfield, and is supposed to have died there of remorse. It may interest you to hear that a curious entry has recently been found in the registers, not of Westfield but of Priors Roothing to the effect that the parish was so much troubled after his death that the rector of Westfield summoned the parsons of all the Roothings to come and lay him; which they did. The entry ends by saying: “The stake is in a field adjoining to the churchyard of Westfield, on the west side.” Perhaps you can let us know if any tradition to this effect is current in your parish.’
The incidents which the ‘enclosed photograph’ recalled were productive of a severe shock to Mrs Anstruther. It was decided that she must spend the winter abroad.
Mr Anstruther, when he went down to Westfield to make the necessary arrangements, not unnaturally told his story to the rector (an old gentleman), who showed little surprise.
‘Really I had managed to piece out for myself very much what must have happened, partly from old people’s talk and partly from what I saw in your grounds. Of course we have suffered to some extent also. Yes, it was bad at first: like owls, as you say, and men talking sometimes. One night it was in this garden, and at other times about several of the cottages. But lately there has been very little: I think it will die out. There is nothing in our registers except the entry of the burial, and what I for a long time took to be the family motto: but last time I looked at it I noticed that it was added in a later hand and had the initials of one of our rectors quite late in the seventeenth century, A. C. — Augustine Crompton. Here it is, you see — quieta non movere. I suppose — Well, it is rather hard to say exactly what I do suppose.’
Towards the end of an autumn afternoon an elderly man with a thin face and grey Piccadilly weepers pushed open the swing-door leading into the vestibule of a certain famous library, and addressing himself to an attendant, stated that he believed he was entitled to use the library, and inquired if he might take a book out. Yes, if he were on the list of those to whom that privilege was given. He produced his card — Mr John Eldred — and, the register being consulted, a favourable answer was given. ‘Now, another point,’ said he. ‘It is a long time since I was here, and I do not know my way about your building; besides, it is near closing-time, and it is bad for me to hurry up and down stairs. I have here the title of the book I want: is there anyone at liberty who could go and find it for me?’ After a moment’s thought the doorkeeper beckoned to a young man who was passing. ‘Mr Garrett,’ he said, ‘have you a minute to assist this gentleman?’ ‘With pleasure,’ was Mr Garrett’s answer. The slip with the title was handed to him. ‘I think I can put my hand on this; it happens to be in the class I inspected last quarter, but I’ll just look it up in the catalogue to make sure. I suppose it is that particular edition that you require, sir?’ ‘Yes, if you please; that, and no other,’ said Mr Eldred; ‘I am exceedingly obliged to you.’ ‘Don’t mention it I beg, sir,’ said Mr Garrett, and hurried off.
‘I thought so,’ he said to himself, when his finger, travelling down the pages of the catalogue, stopped at a particular entry. ‘Talmud: Tractate Middoth, with the commentary of Nachmanides, Amsterdam, 1707. 11.3.34. Hebrew class, of course. Not a very difficult job this.’
Mr Eldred, accommodated with a chair in the vestibule, awaited anxiously the return of his messenger — and his disappointment at seeing an empty-handed Mr Garrett running down the staircase was very evident. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, sir,’ said the young man, ‘but the book is out.’ ‘Oh dear!’ said Mr Eldred, ‘is that so? You are sure there can be no mistake?’ ‘I don’t think there is much chance of it, sir: but it’s possible, if you like to wait a minute, that you might meet the very gentleman that’s got it. He must be leaving the library soon, and I think I saw him take that particular book out of the shelf.’ ‘Indeed! You didn’t recognize him, I suppose? Would it be one of the professors or one of the students?’ ‘I don’t think so: certainly not a professor. I should have known him; but the light isn’t very good in that part of the library at this time of day, and I didn’t see his face. I should have said he was a shortish old gentleman, perhaps a clergyman, in a cloak. If you could wait, I can easily find out whether he wants the book very particularly.’
‘No, no,’ said Mr Eldred, ‘I won’t — I can’t wait now, thank you — no. I must be off. But I’ll call again tomorrow if I may, and perhaps you could find out who has it.’
‘Certainly, sir, and I’ll have the book ready for you if we —’ But Mr Eldred was already off, and hurrying more than one would have thought wholesome for him.
Garrett had a few moments to spare; and, thought he, ‘I’ll go back to that case and see if I can find the old man. Most likely he could put off using the book for a few days. I dare say the other one doesn’t want to keep it for long.’ So off with him to the Hebrew class. But when he got there it was unoccupied, and the volume marked 11.3.34 was in its place on the shelf. It was vexatious to Garrett’s self-respect to have disappointed an inquirer with so little reason: and he would have liked, had it not been against library rules, to take the book down to the vestibule then and there, so that it might be ready for Mr Eldred when he called. However, next morning he would be on the look out for him, and he begged the doorkeeper to send and let him know when the moment came. As a matter of fact, he was himself in the vestibule when Mr Eldred arrived, very soon after the library opened and when hardly anyone besides the staff were in the building.
‘I’m very sorry,’ he said; ‘it’s not often that I make such a stupid mistake, but I did feel sure that the old gentleman I saw took out that very book and kept it in his hand without opening it, just as people do, you know, sir, when they mean to take a book out of the library and not merely refer to it. But, however, I’ll run up now at once and get it for you this time.’
And here intervened a pause. Mr Eldred paced the entry, read all the notices, consulted his watch, sat and gazed up the staircase, did all that a very impatient man could, until some twenty minutes had run out. At last he addressed himself to the doorkeeper and inquired if it was a very long way to that part of the library to which Mr Garrett had gone.
‘Well, I was thinking it was funny, sir: he’s a quick man as a rule, but to be sure he might have been sent for by the librarian, but even so I think he’d have mentioned to him that you was waiting. I’ll just speak him up on the toob and see.’ And to the tube he addressed himself. As he absorbed the reply to his question his face changed, and he made one or two supplementary inquiries which were shortly answered. Then he came forward to his counter and spoke in a lower tone. ‘I’m sorry to hear, sir, that something seems to have ‘appened a little awkward. Mr Garrett has been took poorly, it appears, and the librarian sent him ‘ome in a cab the other way. Something of an attack, by what I can hear.’ ‘What, really? Do you mean that someone has injured him?’ ‘No, sir, not violence ’ere, but, as I should judge, attacked with an attack, what you might term it, of illness. Not a strong constitootion, Mr Garrett. But as to your book, sir, perhaps you might be able to find it for yourself. It’s too bad you should be disappointed this way twice over —’ ‘Er — well, but I’m so sorry that Mr Garrett should have been taken ill in this way while he was obliging me. I think I must leave the book, and call and inquire after him. You can give me his address, I suppose.’ That was easily done: Mr Garrett, it appeared, lodged in rooms not far from the station. ‘And one other question. Did you happen to notice if an old gentleman, perhaps a clergyman, in a — yes — in a black cloak, left the library after I did yesterday. I think he may have been a — I think, that is, that he may be staying — or rather that I may have known him.’
‘Not in a black cloak, sir; no. There were only two gentlemen left later than what you done, sir, both of them youngish men. There was Mr Carter took out a music-book and one of the prefessors with a couple o’ novels. That’s the lot, sir; and then I went off to me tea, and glad to get it. Thank you, sir, much obliged.’
Mr Eldred, still a prey to anxiety, betook himself in a cab to Mr Garrett’s address, but the young man was not yet in a condition to receive visitors. He was better, but his landlady considered that he must have had a severe shock. She thought most likely from what the doctor said that he would be able to see Mr Eldred tomorrow. Mr Eldred returned to his hotel at dusk and spent, I fear, but a dull evening.
On the next day he was able to see Mr Garrett. When in health Mr Garrett was a cheerful and pleasant-looking young man. Now he was a very white and shaky being, propped up in an arm-chair by the fire, and inclined to shiver and keep an eye on the door. If however, there were visitors whom he was not prepared to welcome, Mr Eldred was not among them. ‘It really is I who owe you an apology, and I was despairing of being able to pay it, for I didn’t know your address. But I am very glad you have called. I do dislike and regret giving all this trouble, but you know I could not have foreseen this — this attack which I had.’
‘Of course not; but now, I am something of a doctor. You’ll excuse my asking; you have had, I am sure, good advice. Was it a fall you had?’
‘No. I did fall on the floor — but not from any height. It was, really, a shock.’
‘You mean something startled you. Was it anything you thought you saw?’
‘Not much thinking in the case, I’m afraid. Yes, it was something I saw. You remember when you called the first time at the library?’
‘Yes, of course. Well, now, let me beg you not to try to describe it — it will not be good for you to recall it, I’m sure.’
‘But indeed it would be a relief to me to tell anyone like yourself: you might be able to explain it away. It was just when I was going into the class where your book is —’
‘Indeed, Mr Garrett, I insist; besides, my watch tells me I have but very little time left in which to get my things together and take the train. No — not another word — it would be more distressing to you than you imagine, perhaps. Now there is just one thing I want to say. I feel that I am really indirectly responsible for this illness of yours, and I think I ought to defray the expense which it has — eh?’
But this offer was quite distinctly declined. Mr Eldred, not pressing it, left almost at once: not, however, before Mr Garrett had insisted upon his taking a note of the class-mark of the Tractate Middoth, which, as he said, Mr Eldred could at leisure get for himself. But Mr Eldred did not reappear at the library.
William Garrett had another visitor that day in the person of a contemporary and colleague from the library, one George Earle. Earle had been one of those who found Garrett lying insensible on the floor just inside the ‘class’ or cubicle (opening upon the central alley of a spacious gallery) in which the Hebrew books were placed, and Earle had naturally been very anxious about his friend’s condition. So as soon as library hours were over he appeared at the lodgings. ‘Well,’ he said (after other conversation), ‘I’ve no notion what it was that put you wrong, but I’ve got the idea that there’s something wrong in the atmosphere of the library. I know this, that just before we found you I was coming along the gallery with Davis, and I said to him, “Did ever you know such a musty smell anywhere as there is about here? It can’t be wholesome.” Well now, if one goes on living a long time with a smell of that kind (I tell you it was worse than I ever knew it) it must get into the system and break out some time, don’t you think?’
Garrett shook his head. ‘That’s all very well about the smell — but it isn’t always there, though I’ve noticed it the last day or two — a sort of unnaturally strong smell of dust. But no — that’s not what did for me. It was something I saw. And I want to tell you about it. I went into that Hebrew class to get a book for a man that was inquiring for it down below. Now that same book I’d made a mistake about the day before. I’d been for it, for the same man, and made sure that I saw an old parson in a cloak taking it out. I told my man it was out: off he went, to call again next day. I went back to see if I could get it out of the parson: no parson there, and the book on the shelf. Well, yesterday, as I say, I went again. This time, if you please — ten o’clock in the morning, remember, and as much light as ever you get in those classes, and there was my parson again, back to me, looking at the books on the shelf I wanted. His hat was on the table, and he had a bald head. I waited a second or two looking at him rather particularly. I tell you, he had a very nasty bald head. It looked to me dry, and it looked dusty, and the streaks of hair across it were much less like hair than cobwebs. Well, I made a bit of a noise on purpose, coughed and moved my feet. He turned round and let me see his face — which I hadn’t seen before. I tell you again, I’m not mistaken. Though, for one reason or another I didn’t take in the lower part of his face, I did see the upper part; and it was perfectly dry, and the eyes were very deep-sunk; and over them, from the eyebrows to the cheek-bone, there were cobwebs — thick. Now that closed me up, as they say, and I can’t tell you anything more.’
What explanations were furnished by Earle of this phenomenon it does not very much concern us to inquire; at all events they did not convince Garrett that he had not seen what he had seen.
Before William Garrett returned to work at the library, the librarian insisted upon his taking a week’s rest and change of air. Within a few days’ time, therefore, he was at the station with his bag, looking for a desirable smoking compartment in which to travel to Burnstow-on-Sea, which he had not previously visited. One compartment and one only seemed to be suitable. But, just as he approached it, he saw, standing in front of the door, a figure so like one bound up with recent unpleasant associations that, with a sickening qualm, and hardly knowing what he did, he tore open the door of the next compartment and pulled himself into it as quickly as if death were at his heels. The train moved off, and he must have turned quite faint, for he was next conscious of a smelling-bottle being put to his nose. His physician was a nice-looking old lady, who, with her daughter, was the only passenger in the carriage.
But for this incident it is not very likely that he would have made any overtures to his fellow-travellers. As it was, thanks and inquiries and general conversation supervened inevitably; and Garrett found himself provided before the journey’s end not only with a physician, but with a landlady: for Mrs Simpson had apartments to let at Burnstow, which seemed in all ways suitable. The place was empty at that season, so that Garrett was thrown a good deal into the society of the mother and daughter. He found them very acceptable company. On the third evening of his stay he was on such terms with them as to be asked to spend the evening in their private sitting-room.
During their talk it transpired that Garrett’s work lay in a library. ‘Ah, libraries are fine places,’ said Mrs Simpson, putting down her work with a sigh; ‘but for all that, books have played me a sad turn, or rather a book has.’
‘Well, books give me my living, Mrs Simpson, and I should be sorry to say a word against them: I don’t like to hear that they have been bad for you.’
‘Perhaps Mr Garrett could help us to solve our puzzle, mother,’ said Miss Simpson.
‘I don’t want to set Mr Garrett off on a hunt that might waste a lifetime, my dear, nor yet to trouble him with our private affairs.’
‘But if you think it in the least likely that I could be of use, I do beg you to tell me what the puzzle is, Mrs Simpson. If it is finding out anything about a book, you see, I am in rather a good position to do it.’
‘Yes, I do see that, but the worst of it is that we don’t know the name of the book.’
‘Nor what it is about?’
‘No, nor that either.’
‘Except that we don’t think it’s in English, mother — and that is not much of a clue.’
‘Well, Mr Garrett,’ said Mrs Simpson, who had not yet resumed her work, and was looking at the fire thoughtfully, ‘I shall tell you the story. You will please keep it to yourself, if you don’t mind? Thank you. Now it is just this. I had an old uncle, a Dr Rant. Perhaps you may have heard of him. Not that he was a distinguished man, but from the odd way he chose to be buried.’
‘I rather think I have seen the name in some guidebook.’
‘That would be it,’ said Miss Simpson. ‘He left directions — horrid old man! — that he was to be put, sitting at a table in his ordinary clothes, in a brick room that he’d had made underground in a field near his house. Of course the country people say he’s been seen about there in his old black cloak.’
‘Well, dear, I don’t know much about such things,’ Mrs Simpson went on, ‘but anyhow he is dead, these twenty years and more. He was a clergyman, though I’m sure I can’t imagine how he got to be one: but he did no duty for the last part of his life, which I think was a good thing; and he lived on his own property: a very nice estate not a great way from here. He had no wife or family; only one niece, who was myself, and one nephew, and he had no particular liking for either of us — nor for anyone else, as far as that goes. If anything, he liked my cousin better than he did me — for John was much more like him in his temper, and, I’m afraid I must say, his very mean sharp ways. It might have been different if I had not married; but I did, and that he very much resented. Very well: here he was with this estate and a good deal of money, as it turned out, of which he had the absolute disposal, and it was understood that we — my cousin and I— would share it equally at his death. In a certain winter, over twenty years back, as I said, he was taken ill, and I was sent for to nurse him. My husband was alive then, but the old man would not hear of his coming. As I drove up to the house I saw my cousin John driving away from it in an open fly and looking, I noticed, in very good spirits. I went up and did what I could for my uncle, but I was very soon sure that this would be his last illness; and he was convinced of it too. During the day before he died he got me to sit by him all the time, and I could see there was something, and probably something unpleasant, that he was saving up to tell me, and putting it off as long as he felt he could afford the strength — I’m afraid purposely in order to keep me on the stretch. But, at last, out it came. “Mary,” he said — “Mary, I’ve made my will in John’s favour: he has everything, Mary.” Well, of course that came as a bitter shock to me, for we — my husband and I— were not rich people, and if he could have managed to live a little easier than he was obliged to do, I felt it might be the prolonging of his life. But I said little or nothing to my uncle, except that he had a right to do what he pleased: partly because I couldn’t think of anything to say, and partly because I was sure there was more to come: and so there was. “But, Mary,” he said, “I’m not very fond of John, and I’ve made another will in your favour. You can have everything. Only you’ve got to find the will, you see: and I don’t mean to tell you where it is.” Then he chuckled to himself, and I waited, for again I was sure he hadn’t finished. “That’s a good girl,” he said after a time — “you wait, and I’ll tell you as much as I told John. But just let me remind you, you can’t go into court with what I’m saying to you, for you won’t be able to produce any collateral evidence beyond your own word, and John’s a man that can do a little hard swearing if necessary. Very well then, that’s understood. Now, I had the fancy that I wouldn’t write this will quite in the common way, so I wrote it in a book, Mary, a printed book. And there’s several thousand books in this house. But there! you needn’t trouble yourself with them, for it isn’t one of them. It’s in safe keeping elsewhere: in a place where John can go and find it any day, if he only knew, and you can’t. A good will it is: properly signed and witnessed, but I don’t think you’ll find the witnesses in a hurry.”
‘Still I said nothing: if I had moved at all I must have taken hold of the old wretch and shaken him. He lay there laughing to himself, and at last he said:
‘“Well, well, you’ve taken it very quietly, and as I want to start you both on equal terms, and John has a bit of a purchase in being able to go where the book is, I’ll tell you just two other things which I didn’t tell him. The will’s in English, but you won’t know that if ever you see it. That’s one thing, and another is that when I’m gone you’ll find an envelope in my desk directed to you, and inside it something that would help you to find it, if only you have the wits to use it.”
‘In a few hours from that he was gone, and though I made an appeal to John Eldred about it —’
‘John Eldred? I beg your pardon, Mrs Simpson — I think I’ve seen a Mr John Eldred. What is he like to look at?’
‘It must be ten years since I saw him: he would be a thin elderly man now, and unless he has shaved them off, he has that sort of whiskers which people used to call Dundreary or Piccadilly something.’
‘— weepers. Yes, that is the man.’
‘Where did you come across him, Mr Garrett?’
‘I don’t know if I could tell you,’ said Garrett mendaciously, ‘in some public place. But you hadn’t finished.’
‘Really I had nothing much to add, only that John Eldred, of course, paid no attention whatever to my letters, and has enjoyed the estate ever since, while my daughter and I have had to take to the lodging-house business here, which I must say has not turned out by any means so unpleasant as I feared it might.’
‘But about the envelope.’
‘To be sure! Why, the puzzle turns on that. Give Mr Garrett the paper out of my desk.’
It was a small slip, with nothing whatever on it but five numerals, not divided or punctuated in any way: 11334.
Mr Garrett pondered, but there was a light in his eye. Suddenly he ‘made a face’, and then asked, ‘Do you suppose that Mr Eldred can have any more clue than you have to the title of the book?’
‘I have sometimes thought he must,’ said Mrs Simpson, ‘and in this way: that my uncle must have made the will not very long before he died (that, I think, he said himself), and got rid of the book immediately afterwards. But all his books were very carefully catalogued: and John has the catalogue: and John was most particular that no books whatever should be sold out of the house. And I’m told that he is always journeying about to booksellers and libraries; so I fancy that he must have found out just which books are missing from my uncle’s library of those which are entered in the catalogue, and must be hunting for them.’
‘Just so, just so,’ said Mr Garrett, and relapsed into thought.
No later than next day he received a letter which, as he told Mrs Simpson with great regret, made it absolutely necessary for him to cut short his stay at Burnstow.
Sorry as he was to leave them (and they were at least as sorry to part with him), he had begun to feel that a crisis, all-important to Mrs (and shall we add, Miss?) Simpson, was very possibly supervening.
In the train Garrett was uneasy and excited. He racked his brains to think whether the press mark of the book which Mr Eldred had been inquiring after was one in any way corresponding to the numbers on Mrs Simpson’s little bit of paper. But he found to his dismay that the shock of the previous week had really so upset him that he could neither remember any vestige of the title or nature of the book, or even of the locality to which he had gone to seek it. And yet all other parts of library topography and work were clear as ever in his mind.
And another thing — he stamped with annoyance as he thought of it — he had at first hesitated, and then had forgotten, to ask Mrs Simpson for the name of the place where Eldred lived. That, however, he could write about.
At least he had his clue in the figures on the paper. If they referred to a press mark in his library, they were only susceptible of a limited number of interpretations. They might be divided into 1.13.34, 11.33.4, or 11.3.34. He could try all these in the space of a few minutes, and if any one were missing he had every means of tracing it. He got very quickly to work, though a few minutes had to be spent in explaining his early return to his landlady and his colleagues. 1.13.34. was in place and contained no extraneous writing. As he drew near to Class 11 in the same gallery, its association struck him like a chill. But he must go on. After a cursory glance at 11.33.4 (which first confronted him, and was a perfectly new book) he ran his eye along the line of quartos which fills 11.3. The gap he feared was there: 34 was out. A moment was spent in making sure that it had not been misplaced, and then he was off to the vestibule.
‘Has 11.3.34 gone out? Do you recollect noticing that number?’
‘Notice the number? What do you take me for, Mr Garrett? There, take and look over the tickets for yourself, if you’ve got a free day before you.’
‘Well then, has a Mr Eldred called again? — the old gentleman who came the day I was taken ill. Come! you’d remember him.’
‘What do you suppose? Of course I recollect of him: no, he haven’t been in again, not since you went off for your ‘oliday. And yet I seem to — there now. Roberts’ll know. Roberts, do you recollect of the name of Heldred?’
‘Not arf,’ said Roberts. ‘You mean the man that sent a bob over the price for the parcel, and I wish they all did.’
‘Do you mean to say you’ve been sending books to Mr Eldred? Come, do speak up! Have you?’
‘Well now, Mr Garrett, if a gentleman sends the ticket all wrote correct and the secketry says this book may go and the box ready addressed sent with the note, and a sum of money sufficient to deefray the railway charges, what would be your action in the matter, Mr Garrett, if I may take the liberty to ask such a question? Would you or would you not have taken the trouble to oblige, or would you have chucked the ‘ole thing under the counter and —’
‘You were perfectly right, of course, Hodgson — perfectly right: only, would you kindly oblige me by showing me the ticket Mr Eldred sent, and letting me know his address?’
‘To be sure, Mr Garrett; so long as I’m not ‘ectored about and informed that I don’t know my duty, I’m willing to oblige in every way feasible to my power. There is the ticket on the file. J. Eldred, 11.3.34. Title of work: T-a-l-m — well, there, you can make what you like of it — not a novel, I should ‘azard the guess. And here is Mr Heldred’s note applying for the book in question, which I see he terms it a track.’
‘Thanks, thanks: but the address? There’s none on the note.’
‘Ah, indeed; well, now . . . stay now, Mr Garrett, I ‘ave it. Why, that note come inside of the parcel, which was directed very thoughtful to save all trouble, ready to be sent back with the book inside; and if I have made any mistake in this ‘ole transaction, it lays just in the one point that I neglected to enter the address in my little book here what I keep. Not but what I dare say there was good reasons for me not entering of it: but there, I haven’t the time, neither have you, I dare say, to go into ’em just now. And — no, Mr Garrett, I do not carry it in my ‘ed, else what would be the use of me keeping this little book here — just a ordinary common notebook, you see, which I make a practice of entering all such names and addresses in it as I see fit to do?’
‘Admirable arrangement, to be sure — but — all right, thank you. When did the parcel go off?’
‘Half-past ten, this morning.’
‘Oh, good; and it’s just one now.’
Garrett went upstairs in deep thought. How was he to get the address? A telegram to Mrs Simpson: he might miss a train by waiting for the answer. Yes, there was one other way. She had said that Eldred lived on his uncle’s estate. If this were so, he might find that place entered in the donation-book. That he could run through quickly, now that he knew the title of the book. The register was soon before him, and, knowing that the old man had died more than twenty years ago, he gave him a good margin, and turned back to 1870. There was but one entry possible. 1875, August 14th. Talmud: Tractatus Middoth cum comm. R. Nachmanidae. Amstelod. 1707. Given by J. Rant, D.D., of Bretfield Manor.
A gazetteer showed Bretfield to be three miles from a small station on the main line. Now to ask the doorkeeper whether he recollected if the name on the parcel had been anything like Bretfield.
‘No, nothing like. It was, now you mention it, Mr Garrett, either Bredfield or Britfield, but nothing like that other name what you coated.’
So far well. Next, a time-table. A train could be got in twenty minutes — taking two hours over the journey. The only chance, but one not to be missed; and the train was taken.
If he had been fidgety on the journey up, he was almost distracted on the journey down. If he found Eldred, what could he say? That it had been discovered that the book was a rarity and must be recalled? An obvious untruth. Or that it was believed to contain important manuscript notes? Eldred would of course show him the book, from which the leaf would already have been removed. He might, perhaps, find traces of the removal — a torn edge of a fly-leaf probably — and who could disprove, what Eldred was certain to say, that he too had noticed and regretted the mutilation? Altogether the chase seemed very hopeless. The one chance was this. The book had left the library at 10.30: it might not have been put into the first possible train, at 11.20. Granted that, then he might be lucky enough to arrive simultaneously with it and patch up some story which would induce Eldred to give it up.
It was drawing towards evening when he got out upon the platform of his station, and, like most country stations, this one seemed unnaturally quiet. He waited about till the one or two passengers who got out with him had drifted off, and then inquired of the station-master whether Mr Eldred was in the neighbourhood.
‘Yes, and pretty near too, I believe. I fancy he means calling here for a parcel he expects. Called for it once today already, didn’t he, Bob?’ (to the porter).
‘Yes, sir, he did; and appeared to think it was all along of me that it didn’t come by the two o’clock. Anyhow, I’ve got it for him now,’ and the porter flourished a square parcel, which — a glance assured Garrett — contained all that was of any importance to him at that particular moment.
‘Bretfield, sir? Yes — three miles just about. Short cut across these three fields brings it down by half a mile. There: there’s Mr Eldred’s trap.’
A dog-cart drove up with two men in it, of whom Garrett, gazing back as he crossed the little station yard, easily recognized one. The fact that Eldred was driving was slightly in his favour — for most likely he would not open the parcel in the presence of his servant. On the other hand, he would get home quickly, and unless Garrett were there within a very few minutes of his arrival, all would be over. He must hurry; and that he did. His short cut took him along one side of a triangle, while the cart had two sides to traverse; and it was delayed a little at the station, so that Garrett was in the third of the three fields when he heard the wheels fairly near. He had made the best progress possible, but the pace at which the cart was coming made him despair. At this rate it must reach home ten minutes before him, and ten minutes would more than suffice for the fulfilment of Mr Eldred’s project.
It was just at this time that the luck fairly turned. The evening was still, and sounds came clearly. Seldom has any sound given greater relief than that which he now heard: that of the cart pulling up. A few words were exchanged, and it drove on. Garrett, halting in the utmost anxiety, was able to see as it drove past the stile (near which he now stood) that it contained only the servant and not Eldred; further, he made out that Eldred was following on foot. From behind the tall hedge by the stile leading into the road he watched the thin wiry figure pass quickly by with the parcel beneath its arm, and feeling in its pockets. Just as he passed the stile something fell out of a pocket upon the grass, but with so little sound that Eldred was not conscious of it. In a moment more it was safe for Garrett to cross the stile into the road and pick up — a box of matches. Eldred went on, and, as he went, his arms made hasty movements, difficult to interpret in the shadow of the trees that overhung the road. But, as Garrett followed cautiously, he found at various points the key to them — a piece of string, and then the wrapper of the parcel — meant to be thrown over the hedge, but sticking in it.
Now Eldred was walking slower, and it could just be made out that he had opened the book and was turning over the leaves. He stopped, evidently troubled by the failing light. Garrett slipped into a gate-opening, but still watched. Eldred, hastily looking around, sat down on a felled tree-trunk by the roadside and held the open book up close to his eyes. Suddenly he laid it, still open, on his knee, and felt in all his pockets: clearly in vain, and clearly to his annoyance. ‘You would be glad of your matches now,’ thought Garrett. Then he took hold of a leaf, and was carefully tearing it out, when two things happened. First, something black seemed to drop upon the white leaf and run down it, and then as Eldred started and was turning to look behind him, a little dark form appeared to rise out of the shadow behind the tree-trunk and from it two arms enclosing a mass of blackness came before Eldred’s face and covered his head and neck. His legs and arms were wildly flourished, but no sound came. Then, there was no more movement. Eldred was alone. He had fallen back into the grass behind the tree-trunk. The book was cast into the roadway. Garrett, his anger and suspicion gone for the moment at the sight of this horrid struggle, rushed up with loud cries of ‘Help!’ and so too, to his enormous relief, did a labourer who had just emerged from a field opposite. Together they bent over and supported Eldred, but to no purpose. The conclusion that he was dead was inevitable. ‘Poor gentleman!’ said Garrett to the labourer, when they had laid him down, ‘what happened to him, do you think?’ ‘I wasn’t two hundred yards away,’ said the man, ‘when I see Squire Eldred setting reading in his book, and to my thinking he was took with one of these fits — face seemed to go all over black.’ ‘Just so,’ said Garrett. ‘You didn’t see anyone near him? It couldn’t have been an assault?’ ‘Not possible — no one couldn’t have got away without you or me seeing them.’ ‘So I thought. Well, we must get some help, and the doctor and the policeman; and perhaps I had better give them this book.’
It was obviously a case for an inquest, and obvious also that Garrett must stay at Bretfield and give his evidence. The medical inspection showed that, though some black dust was found on the face and in the mouth of the deceased, the cause of death was a shock to a weak heart, and not asphyxiation. The fateful book was produced, a respectable quarto printed wholly in Hebrew, and not of an aspect likely to excite even the most sensitive.
‘You say, Mr Garrett, that the deceased gentleman appeared at the moment before his attack to be tearing a leaf out of this book?’
‘Yes; I think one of the fly-leaves.’
‘There is here a fly-leaf partially torn through. It has Hebrew writing on it. Will you kindly inspect it?’
‘There are three names in English, sir, also, and a date. But I am sorry to say I cannot read Hebrew writing.’
‘Thank you. The names have the appearance of being signatures. They are John Rant, Walter Gibson, and James Frost, and the date is 20 July, 1875. Does anyone here know any of these names?’
The Rector, who was present, volunteered a statement that the uncle of the deceased, from whom he inherited, had been named Rant.
The book being handed to him, he shook a puzzled head. ‘This is not like any Hebrew I ever learnt.’
‘You are sure that it is Hebrew?’
‘What? Yes — I suppose. . . . No — my dear sir, you are perfectly right — that is, your suggestion is exactly to the point. Of course — it is not Hebrew at all. It is English, and it is a will.’
It did not take many minutes to show that here was indeed a will of Dr John Rant, bequeathing the whole of the property lately held by John Eldred to Mrs Mary Simpson. Clearly the discovery of such a document would amply justify Mr Eldred’s agitation. As to the partial tearing of the leaf, the coroner pointed out that no useful purpose could be attained by speculations whose correctness it would never be possible to establish.
The Tractate Middoth was naturally taken in charge by the coroner for further investigation, and Mr Garrett explained privately to him the history of it, and the position of events so far as he knew or guessed them.
He returned to his work next day, and on his walk to the station passed the scene of Mr Eldred’s catastrophe. He could hardly leave it without another look, though the recollection of what he had seen there made him shiver, even on that bright morning. He walked round, with some misgivings, behind the felled tree. Something dark that still lay there made him start back for a moment: but it hardly stirred. Looking closer, he saw that it was a thick black mass of cobwebs; and, as he stirred it gingerly with his stick, several large spiders ran out of it into the grass.
There is no great difficulty in imagining the steps by which William Garrett, from being an assistant in a great library, attained to his present position of prospective owner of Bretfield Manor, now in the occupation of his mother-inlaw, Mrs Mary Simpson.
April 15th, 190-
I am requested by the Council of the —— Association to return to you the draft of a paper on The Truth of Alchemy, which you have been good enough to offer to read at our forthcoming meeting, and to inform you that the Council do not see their way to including it in the programme.
I am sorry to say that my engagements do not permit of my affording you an interview on the subject of your proposed paper. Nor do our laws allow of your discussing the matter with a Committee of our Council, as you suggest. Please allow me to assure you that the fullest consideration was given to the draft which you submitted, and that it was not declined without having been referred to the judgement of a most competent authority. No personal question (it can hardly be necessary for me to add) can have had the slightest influence on the decision of the Council.
Believe me (ut supra).
The Secretary of the —— Association begs respectfully to inform Mr Karswell that it is impossible for him to communicate the name of any person or persons to whom the draft of Mr Karswell’s paper may have been submitted; and further desires to intimate that he cannot undertake to reply to any further letters on this subject.
‘And who is Mr Karswell?’ inquired the Secretary’s wife. She had called at his office, and (perhaps unwarrantably) had picked up the last of these three letters, which the typist had just brought in.
‘Why, my dear, just at present Mr Karswell is a very angry man. But I don’t know much about him otherwise, except that he is a person of wealth, his address is Lufford Abbey, Warwickshire, and he’s an alchemist, apparently, and wants to tell us all about it; and that’s about all — except that I don’t want to meet him for the next week or two. Now, if you’re ready to leave this place, I am.’
‘What have you been doing to make him angry?’ asked Mrs Secretary.
‘The usual thing, my dear, the usual thing: he sent in a draft of a paper he wanted to read at the next meeting, and we referred it to Edward Dunning — almost the only man in England who knows about these things — and he said it was perfectly hopeless, so we declined it. So Karswell has been pelting me with letters ever since. The last thing he wanted was the name of the man we referred his nonsense to; you saw my answer to that. But don’t you say anything about it, for goodness’ sake.’
‘I should think not, indeed. Did I ever do such a thing? I do hope, though, he won’t get to know that it was poor Mr Dunning.’
‘Poor Mr Dunning? I don’t know why you call him that; he’s a very happy man, is Dunning. Lots of hobbies and a comfortable home, and all his time to himself.’
‘I only meant I should be sorry for him if this man got hold of his name, and came and bothered him.’
‘Oh, ah! yes. I dare say he would be poor Mr Dunning then.’
The Secretary and his wife were lunching out, and the friends to whose house they were bound were Warwickshire people. So Mrs Secretary had already settled it in her own mind that she would question them judiciously about Mr Karswell. But she was saved the trouble of leading up to the subject, for the hostess said to the host, before many minutes had passed, ‘I saw the Abbot of Lufford this morning.’ The host whistled. ‘Did you? What in the world brings him up to town?’ ‘Goodness knows; he was coming out of the British Museum gate as I drove past.’ It was not unnatural that Mrs Secretary should inquire whether this was a real Abbot who was being spoken of. ‘Oh no, my dear: only a neighbour of ours in the country who bought Lufford Abbey a few years ago. His real name is Karswell.’ ‘Is he a friend of yours?’ asked Mr Secretary, with a private wink to his wife. The question let loose a torrent of declamation. There was really nothing to be said for Mr Karswell. Nobody knew what he did with himself: his servants were a horrible set of people; he had invented a new religion for himself, and practised no one could tell what appalling rites; he was very easily offended, and never forgave anybody; he had a dreadful face (so the lady insisted, her husband somewhat demurring); he never did a kind action, and whatever influence he did exert was mischievous. ‘Do the poor man justice, dear,’ the husband interrupted. ‘You forget the treat he gave the school children.’ ‘Forget it, indeed! But I’m glad you mentioned it, because it gives an idea of the man. Now, Florence, listen to this. The first winter he was at Lufford this delightful neighbour of ours wrote to the clergyman of his parish (he’s not ours, but we know him very well) and offered to show the school children some magic-lantern slides. He said he had some new kinds, which he thought would interest them. Well, the clergyman was rather surprised, because Mr Karswell had shown himself inclined to be unpleasant to the children — complaining of their trespassing, or something of the sort; but of course he accepted, and the evening was fixed, and our friend went himself to see that everything went right. He said he never had been so thankful for anything as that his own children were all prevented from being there: they were at a children’s party at our house, as a matter of fact. Because this Mr Karswell had evidently set out with the intention of frightening these poor village children out of their wits, and I do believe, if he had been allowed to go on, he would actually have done so. He began with some comparatively mild things. Red Riding Hood was one, and even then, Mr Farrer said, the wolf was so dreadful that several of the smaller children had to be taken out: and he said Mr Karswell began the story by producing a noise like a wolf howling in the distance, which was the most gruesome thing he had ever heard. All the slides he showed, Mr Farrer said, were most clever; they were absolutely realistic, and where he had got them or how he worked them he could not imagine. Well, the show went on, and the stories kept on becoming a little more terrifying each time, and the children were mesmerized into complete silence. At last he produced a series which represented a little boy passing through his own park — Lufford, I mean — in the evening. Every child in the room could recognize the place from the pictures. And this poor boy was followed, and at last pursued and overtaken, and either torn to pieces or somehow made away with, by a horrible hopping creature in white, which you saw first dodging about among the trees, and gradually it appeared more and more plainly. Mr Farrer said it gave him one of the worst nightmares he ever remembered, and what it must have meant to the children doesn’t bear thinking of. Of course this was too much, and he spoke very sharply indeed to Mr Karswell, and said it couldn’t go on. All he said was: “Oh, you think it’s time to bring our little show to an end and send them home to their beds? Very well!” And then, if you please, he switched on another slide, which showed a great mass of snakes, centipedes, and disgusting creatures with wings, and somehow or other he made it seem as if they were climbing out of the picture and getting in amongst the audience; and this was accompanied by a sort of dry rustling noise which sent the children nearly mad, and of course they stampeded. A good many of them were rather hurt in getting out of the room, and I don’t suppose one of them closed an eye that night. There was the most dreadful trouble in the village afterwards. Of course the mothers threw a good part of the blame on poor Mr Farrer, and, if they could have got past the gates, I believe the fathers would have broken every window in the Abbey. Well, now, that’s Mr Karswell: that’s the Abbot of Lufford, my dear, and you can imagine how we covet his society.’
‘Yes, I think he has all the possibilities of a distinguished criminal, has Karswell,’ said the host. ‘I should be sorry for anyone who got into his bad books.’
‘Is he the man, or am I mixing him up with someone else?’ asked the Secretary (who for some minutes had been wearing the frown of the man who is trying to recollect something). ‘Is he the man who brought out a History of Witchcraft some time back — ten years or more?’
‘That’s the man; do you remember the reviews of it?’
‘Certainly I do; and what’s equally to the point, I knew the author of the most incisive of the lot. So did you: you must remember John Harrington; he was at John’s in our time.’
‘Oh, very well indeed, though I don’t think I saw or heard anything of him between the time I went down and the day I read the account of the inquest on him.’
‘Inquest?’ said one of the ladies. ‘What has happened to him?’
‘Why, what happened was that he fell out of a tree and broke his neck. But the puzzle was, what could have induced him to get up there. It was a mysterious business, I must say. Here was this man — not an athletic fellow, was he? and with no eccentric twist about him that was ever noticed — walking home along a country road late in the evening — no tramps about — well known and liked in the place — and he suddenly begins to run like mad, loses his hat and stick, and finally shins up a tree — quite a difficult tree — growing in the hedgerow: a dead branch gives way, and he comes down with it and breaks his neck, and there he’s found next morning with the most dreadful face of fear on him that could be imagined. It was pretty evident, of course, that he had been chased by something, and people talked of savage dogs, and beasts escaped out of menageries; but there was nothing to be made of that. That was in ‘89, and I believe his brother Henry (whom I remember as well at Cambridge, but you probably don’t) has been trying to get on the track of an explanation ever since. He, of course, insists there was malice in it, but I don’t know. It’s difficult to see how it could have come in.’
After a time the talk reverted to the History of Witchcraft. ‘Did you ever look into it?’ asked the host.
‘Yes, I did,’ said the Secretary. ‘I went so far as to read it.’
‘Was it as bad as it was made out to be?’
‘Oh, in point of style and form, quite hopeless. It deserved all the pulverizing it got. But, besides that, it was an evil book. The man believed every word of what he was saying, and I’m very much mistaken if he hadn’t tried the greater part of his receipts.’
‘Well, I only remember Harrington’s review of it, and I must say if I’d been the author it would have quenched my literary ambition for good. I should never have held up my head again.’
‘It hasn’t had that effect in the present case. But come, it’s half-past three; I must be off.’
On the way home the Secretary’s wife said, ‘I do hope that horrible man won’t find out that Mr Dunning had anything to do with the rejection of his paper.’ ‘I don’t think there’s much chance of that,’ said the Secretary. ‘Dunning won’t mention it himself, for these matters are confidential, and none of us will for the same reason. Karswell won’t know his name, for Dunning hasn’t published anything on the same subject yet. The only danger is that Karswell might find out, if he was to ask the British Museum people who was in the habit of consulting alchemical manuscripts: I can’t very well tell them not to mention Dunning, can I? It would set them talking at once. Let’s hope it won’t occur to him.’
However, Mr Karswell was an astute man.
This much is in the way of prologue. On an evening rather later in the same week, Mr Edward Dunning was returning from the British Museum, where he had been engaged in research, to the comfortable house in a suburb where he lived alone, tended by two excellent women who had been long with him. There is nothing to be added by way of description of him to what we have heard already. Let us follow him as he takes his sober course homewards.
A train took him to within a mile or two of his house, and an electric tram a stage farther. The line ended at a point some three hundred yards from his front door. He had had enough of reading when he got into the car, and indeed the light was not such as to allow him to do more than study the advertisements on the panes of glass that faced him as he sat. As was not unnatural, the advertisements in this particular line of cars were objects of his frequent contemplation, and, with the possible exception of the brilliant and convincing dialogue between Mr Lamplough and an eminent K.C. on the subject of Pyretic Saline, none of them afforded much scope to his imagination. I am wrong: there was one at the corner of the car farthest from him which did not seem familiar. It was in blue letters on a yellow ground, and all that he could read of it was a name — John Harrington — and something like a date. It could be of no interest to him to know more; but for all that, as the car emptied, he was just curious enough to move along the seat until he could read it well. He felt to a slight extent repaid for his trouble; the advertisement was not of the usual type. It ran thus: ‘In memory of John Harrington, F.S.A., of The Laurels, Ashbrooke. Died Sept. 18th, 1889. Three months were allowed.’
The car stopped. Mr Dunning, still contemplating the blue letters on the yellow ground, had to be stimulated to rise by a word from the conductor. ‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, ‘I was looking at that advertisement; it’s a very odd one, isn’t it?’ The conductor read it slowly. ‘Well, my word,’ he said, ‘I never see that one before. Well, that is a cure, ain’t it? Someone bin up to their jokes ’ere, I should think.’ He got out a duster and applied it, not without saliva, to the pane and then to the outside. ‘No,’ he said, returning, ‘that ain’t no transfer; seems to me as if it was reg’lar in the glass, what I mean in the substance, as you may say. Don’t you think so, sir?’ Mr Dunning examined it and rubbed it with his glove, and agreed. ‘Who looks after these advertisements, and gives leave for them to be put up? I wish you would inquire. I will just take a note of the words.’ At this moment there came a call from the driver: ‘Look alive, George, time’s up.’ ‘All right, all right; there’s something else what’s up at this end. You come and look at this ’ere glass.’ ‘What’s gorn with the glass?’ said the driver, approaching. ‘Well, and oo’s ‘Arrington? What’s it all about?’ ‘I was just asking who was responsible for putting the advertisements up in your cars, and saying it would be as well to make some inquiry about this one.’ ‘Well, sir, that’s all done at the Company’s office, that work is: it’s our Mr Timms, I believe, looks into that. When we put up tonight I’ll leave word, and per’aps I’ll be able to tell you tomorrer if you ‘appen to be coming this way.’
This was all that passed that evening. Mr Dunning did just go to the trouble of looking up Ashbrooke, and found that it was in Warwickshire.
Next day he went to town again. The car (it was the same car) was too full in the morning to allow of his getting a word with the conductor: he could only be sure that the curious advertisement had been made away with. The close of the day brought a further element of mystery into the transaction. He had missed the tram, or else preferred walking home, but at a rather late hour, while he was at work in his study, one of the maids came to say that two men from the tramways was very anxious to speak to him. This was a reminder of the advertisement, which he had, he says, nearly forgotten. He had the men in-they were the conductor and driver of the car — and when the matter of refreshment had been attended to, asked what Mr Timms had had to say about the advertisement. ‘Well, sir, that’s what we took the liberty to step round about,’ said the conductor. ‘Mr Timms ‘e give William ’ere the rough side of his tongue about that: ‘cordin’ to ’im there warn’t no advertisement of that description sent in, nor ordered, nor paid for, nor put up, nor nothink, let alone not bein’ there, and we was playing the fool takin’ up his time. “Well,” I says, “if that’s the case, all I ask of you, Mr Timms,” I says, “is to take and look at it for yourself,” I says. “Of course if it ain’t there,” I says, “you may take and call me what you like.” “Right,” he says, “I will”: and we went straight off. Now, I leave it to you, sir, if that ad., as we term ’em, with ‘Arrington on it warn’t as plain as ever you see anythink — blue letters on yeller glass, and as I says at the time, and you borne me out, reg’lar in the glass, because, if you remember, you recollect of me swabbing it with my duster.’ ‘To be sure I do, quite clearly — well?’ ‘You may say well, I don’t think. Mr Timms he gets in that car with a light — no, he telled William to ‘old the light outside. “Now,” he says, “where’s your precious ad. what we’ve ‘eard so much about?” “‘Ere it is,” I says, “Mr Timms,” and I laid my ‘and on it.’ The conductor paused.
‘Well,’ said Mr Dunning, ‘it was gone, I suppose. Broken?’
‘Broke! — not it. There warn’t, if you’ll believe me, no more trace of them letters — blue letters they was — on that piece o’ glass, than — well, it’s no good me talkin’. I never see such a thing. I leave it to William here if — but there, as I says, where’s the benefit in me going on about it?’
‘And what did Mr Timms say?’
‘Why ‘e did what I give ’im leave to — called us pretty much anythink he liked, and I don’t know as I blame him so much neither. But what we thought, William and me did, was as we seen you take down a bit of a note about that — well, that letterin’—’
‘I certainly did that, and I have it now. Did you wish me to speak to Mr Timms myself, and show it to him? Was that what you came in about?’
‘There, didn’t I say as much?’ said William. ‘Deal with a gent if you can get on the track of one, that’s my word. Now perhaps, George, you’ll allow as I ain’t took you very far wrong tonight.’
‘Very well, William, very well; no need for you to go on as if you’d ‘ad to frog’s-march me ’ere. I come quiet, didn’t I? All the same for that, we ‘adn’t ought to take up your time this way, sir; but if it so ‘appened you could find time to step round to the Company orfice in the morning and tell Mr Timms what you seen for yourself, we should lay under a very ‘igh obligation to you for the trouble. You see it ain’t bein’ called — well, one thing and another, as we mind, but if they got it into their ‘ead at the orfice as we seen things as warn’t there, why, one thing leads to another, and where we should be a twelvemunce ‘ence — well, you can understand what I mean.’
Amid further elucidations of the proposition, George, conducted by William, left the room.
The incredulity of Mr Timms (who had a nodding acquaintance with Mr Dunning) was greatly modified on the following day by what the latter could tell and show him; and any bad mark that might have been attached to the names of William and George was not suffered to remain on the Company’s books; but explanation there was none.
Mr Dunning’s interest in the matter was kept alive by an incident of the following afternoon. He was walking from his club to the train, and he noticed some way ahead a man with a handful of leaflets such as are distributed to passers-by by agents of enterprising firms. This agent had not chosen a very crowded street for his operations: in fact, Mr Dunning did not see him get rid of a single leaflet before he himself reached the spot. One was thrust into his hand as he passed: the hand that gave it touched his, and he experienced a sort of little shock as it did so. It seemed unnaturally rough and hot. He looked in passing at the giver, but the impression he got was so unclear that, however much he tried to reckon it up subsequently, nothing would come. He was walking quickly, and as he went on glanced at the paper. It was a blue one. The name of Harrington in large capitals caught his eye. He stopped, startled, and felt for his glasses. The next instant the leaflet was twitched out of his hand by a man who hurried past, and was irrecoverably gone. He ran back a few paces, but where was the passer-by? and where the distributor?
It was in a somewhat pensive frame of mind that Mr Dunning passed on the following day into the Select Manuscript Room of the British Museum, and filled up tickets for Harley 3586, and some other volumes. After a few minutes they were brought to him, and he was settling the one he wanted first upon the desk, when he thought he heard his own name whispered behind him. He turned round hastily, and in doing so, brushed his little portfolio of loose papers on to the floor. He saw no one he recognized except one of the staff in charge of the room, who nodded to him, and he proceeded to pick up his papers. He thought he had them all, and was turning to begin work, when a stout gentleman at the table behind him, who was just rising to leave, and had collected his own belongings, touched him on the shoulder, saying, ‘May I give you this? I think it should be yours,’ and handed him a missing quire. ‘It is mine, thank you,’ said Mr Dunning. In another moment the man had left the room. Upon finishing his work for the afternoon, Mr Dunning had some conversation with the assistant in charge, and took occasion to ask who the stout gentleman was. ‘Oh, he’s a man named Karswell,’ said the assistant; ‘he was asking me a week ago who were the great authorities on alchemy, and of course I told him you were the only one in the country. I’ll see if I can catch him: he’d like to meet you, I’m sure.’
‘For heaven’s sake don’t dream of it!’ said Mr Dunning, ‘I’m particularly anxious to avoid him.’
‘Oh! very well,’ said the assistant, ‘he doesn’t come here often: I dare say you won’t meet him.’
More than once on the way home that day Mr Dunning confessed to himself that he did not look forward with his usual cheerfulness to a solitary evening. It seemed to him that something ill-defined and impalpable had stepped in between him and his fellow-men — had taken him in charge, as it were. He wanted to sit close up to his neighbours in the train and in the tram, but as luck would have it both train and car were markedly empty. The conductor George was thoughtful, and appeared to be absorbed in calculations as to the number of passengers. On arriving at his house he found Dr Watson, his medical man, on his doorstep. ‘I’ve had to upset your household arrangements, I’m sorry to say, Dunning. Both your servants hors de combat. In fact, I’ve had to send them to the Nursing Home.’
‘Good heavens! what’s the matter?’
‘It’s something like ptomaine poisoning, I should think: you’ve not suffered yourself, I can see, or you wouldn’t be walking about. I think they’ll pull through all right.’
‘Dear, dear! Have you any idea what brought it on?’ ‘Well, they tell me they bought some shell-fish from a hawker at their dinner-time. It’s odd. I’ve made inquiries, but I can’t find that any hawker has been to other houses in the street. I couldn’t send word to you; they won’t be back for a bit yet. You come and dine with me tonight, anyhow, and we can make arrangements for going on. Eight o’clock. Don’t be too anxious.’ The solitary evening was thus obviated; at the expense of some distress and inconvenience, it is true. Mr Dunning spent the time pleasantly enough with the doctor (a rather recent settler), and returned to his lonely home at about 11.30. The night he passed is not one on which he looks back with any satisfaction. He was in bed and the light was out. He was wondering if the charwoman would come early enough to get him hot water next morning, when he heard the unmistakable sound of his study door opening. No step followed it on the passage floor, but the sound must mean mischief, for he knew that he had shut the door that evening after putting his papers away in his desk. It was rather shame than courage that induced him to slip out into the passage and lean over the banister in his nightgown, listening. No light was visible; no further sound came: only a gust of warm, or even hot air played for an instant round his shins. He went back and decided to lock himself into his room. There was more unpleasantness, however. Either an economical suburban company had decided that their light would not be required in the small hours, and had stopped working, or else something was wrong with the meter; the effect was in any case that the electric light was off. The obvious course was to find a match, and also to consult his watch: he might as well know how many hours of discomfort awaited him. So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being. I do not think it is any use to guess what he said or did; but he was in a spare room with the door locked and his ear to it before he was clearly conscious again. And there he spent the rest of a most miserable night, looking every moment for some fumbling at the door: but nothing came.
The venturing back to his own room in the morning was attended with many listenings and quiverings. The door stood open, fortunately, and the blinds were up (the servants had been out of the house before the hour of drawing them down); there was, to be short, no trace of an inhabitant. The watch, too, was in its usual place; nothing was disturbed, only the wardrobe door had swung open, in accordance with its confirmed habit. A ring at the back door now announced the charwoman, who had been ordered the night before, and nerved Mr Dunning, after letting her in, to continue his search in other parts of the house. It was equally fruitless.
The day thus begun went on dismally enough. He dared not go to the Museum: in spite of what the assistant had said, Karswell might turn up there, and Dunning felt he could not cope with a probably hostile stranger. His own house was odious; he hated sponging on the doctor. He spent some little time in a call at the Nursing Home, where he was slightly cheered by a good report of his housekeeper and maid. Towards lunch-time he betook himself to his club, again experiencing a gleam of satisfaction at seeing the Secretary of the Association. At luncheon Dunning told his friend the more material of his woes, but could not bring himself to speak of those that weighed most heavily on his spirits. ‘My poor dear man,’ said the Secretary, ‘what an upset! Look here: we’re alone at home, absolutely. You must put up with us. Yes! no excuse: send your things in this afternoon.’ Dunning was unable to stand out: he was, in truth, becoming acutely anxious, as the hours went on, as to what that night might have waiting for him. He was almost happy as he hurried home to pack up.
His friends, when they had time to take stock of him, were rather shocked at his lorn appearance, and did their best to keep him up to the mark. Not altogether without success: but, when the two men were smoking alone later, Dunning became dull again. Suddenly he said, ‘Gayton, I believe that alchemist man knows it was I who got his paper rejected.’ Gayton whistled. ‘What makes you think that?’ he said. Dunning told of his conversation with the Museum assistant, and Gayton could only agree that the guess seemed likely to be correct. ‘Not that I care much,’ Dunning went on, ‘only it might be a nuisance if we were to meet. He’s a bad-tempered party, I imagine.’ Conversation dropped again; Gayton became more and more strongly impressed with the desolateness that came over Dunning’s face and bearing, and finally — though with a considerable effort — he asked him point-blank whether something serious was not bothering him. Dunning gave an exclamation of relief. ‘I was perishing to get it off my mind,’ he said. ‘Do you know anything about a man named John Harrington?’ Gayton was thoroughly startled, and at the moment could only ask why. Then the complete story of Dunning’s experiences came out — what had happened in the tramcar, in his own house, and in the street, the troubling of spirit that had crept over him, and still held him; and he ended with the question he had begun with. Gayton was at a loss how to answer him. To tell the story of Harrington’s end would perhaps be right; only, Dunning was in a nervous state, the story was a grim one, and he could not help asking himself whether there were not a connecting link between these two cases, in the person of Karswell. It was a difficult concession for a scientific man, but it could be eased by the phrase ‘hypnotic suggestion’. In the end he decided that his answer tonight should be guarded; he would talk the situation over with his wife. So he said that he had known Harrington at Cambridge, and believed he had died suddenly in 1889, adding a few details about the man and his published work. He did talk over the matter with Mrs Gayton, and, as he had anticipated, she leapt at once to the conclusion which had been hovering before him. It was she who reminded him of the surviving brother, Henry Harrington, and she also who suggested that he might be got hold of by means of their hosts of the day before. ‘He might be a hopeless crank,’ objected Gayton. ‘That could be ascertained from the Bennetts, who knew him,’ Mrs Gayton retorted; and she undertook to see the Bennetts the very next day.
It is not necessary to tell in further detail the steps by which Henry Harrington and Dunning were brought together.
The next scene that does require to be narrated is a conversation that took place between the two. Dunning had told Harrington of the strange ways in which the dead man’s name had been brought before him, and had said something, besides, of his own subsequent experiences. Then he had asked if Harrington was disposed, in return, to recall any of the circumstances connected with his brother’s death. Harrington’s surprise at what he heard can be imagined: but his reply was readily given.
‘John,’ he said, ‘was in a very odd state, undeniably, from time to time, during some weeks before, though not immediately before, the catastrophe. There were several things; the principal notion he had was that he thought he was being followed. No doubt he was an impressionable man, but he never had had such fancies as this before. I cannot get it out of my mind that there was ill-will at work, and what you tell me about yourself reminds me very much of my brother. Can you think of any possible connecting link?’
‘There is just one that has been taking shape vaguely in my mind. I’ve been told that your brother reviewed a book very severely not long before he died, and just lately I have happened to cross the path of the man who wrote that book in a way he would resent.’
‘Don’t tell me the man was called Karswell.’
‘Why not? that is exactly his name.’
Henry Harrington leant back. ‘That is final to my mind. Now I must explain further. From something he said, I feel sure that my brother John was beginning to believe — very much against his will — that Karswell was at the bottom of his trouble. I want to tell you what seems to me to have a bearing on the situation. My brother was a great musician, and used to run up to concerts in town. He came back, three months before he died, from one of these, and gave me his programme to look at — an analytical programme: he always kept them. “I nearly missed this one,” he said. “I suppose I must have dropped it: anyhow, I was looking for it under my seat and in my pockets and so on, and my neighbour offered me his, said ‘might he give it me, he had no further use for it,’ and he went away just afterwards. I don’t know who he was — a stout, clean-shaven man. I should have been sorry to miss it; of course I could have bought another, but this cost me nothing.” At another time he told me that he had been very uncomfortable both on the way to his hotel and during the night. I piece things together now in thinking it over. Then, not very long after, he was going over these programmes, putting them in order to have them bound up, and in this particular one (which by the way I had hardly glanced at), he found quite near the beginning a strip of paper with some very odd writing on it in red and black — most carefully done — it looked to me more like Runic letters than anything else. “Why,” he said, “this must belong to my fat neighbour. It looks as if it might be worth returning to him; it may be a copy of something; evidently someone has taken trouble over it. How can I find his address?” We talked it over for a little and agreed that it wasn’t worth advertising about, and that my brother had better look out for the man at the next concert, to which he was going very soon. The paper was lying on the book and we were both by the fire; it was a cold, windy summer evening. I suppose the door blew open, though I didn’t notice it: at any rate a gust — a warm gust it was — came quite suddenly between us, took the paper and blew it straight into the fire: it was light, thin paper, and flared and went up the chimney in a single ash. “Well,” I said, “you can’t give it back now.” He said nothing for a minute: then rather crossly, “No, I can’t; but why you should keep on saying so I don’t know.” I remarked that I didn’t say it more than once. “Not more than four times, you mean,” was all he said. I remember all that very clearly, without any good reason; and now to come to the point. I don’t know if you looked at that book of Karswell’s which my unfortunate brother reviewed. It’s not likely that you should: but I did, both before his death and after it. The first time we made game of it together. It was written in no style at all — split infinitives, and every sort of thing that makes an Oxford gorge rise. Then there was nothing that the man didn’t swallow: mixing up classical myths, and stories out of the Golden Legend with reports of savage customs of today — all very proper, no doubt, if you know how to use them, but he didn’t: he seemed to put the Golden Legend and the Golden Bough exactly on a par, and to believe both: a pitiable exhibition, in short. Well, after the misfortune, I looked over the book again. It was no better than before, but the impression which it left this time on my mind was different. I suspected — as I told you — that Karswell had borne ill-will to my brother, even that he was in some way responsible for what had happened; and now his book seemed to me to be a very sinister performance indeed. One chapter in particular struck me, in which he spoke of “casting the Runes” on people, either for the purpose of gaining their affection or of getting them out of the way — perhaps more especially the latter: he spoke of all this in a way that really seemed to me to imply actual knowledge. I’ve not time to go into details, but the upshot is that I am pretty sure from information received that the civil man at the concert was Karswell: I suspect — I more than suspect — that the paper was of importance: and I do believe that if my brother had been able to give it back, he might have been alive now. Therefore, it occurs to me to ask you whether you have anything to put beside what I have told you.’
By way of answer, Dunning had the episode in the Manuscript Room at the British Museum to relate.
‘Then he did actually hand you some papers; have you examined them? No? because we must, if you’ll allow it, look at them at once, and very carefully.’
They went to the still empty house — empty, for the two servants were not yet able to return to work. Dunning’s portfolio of papers was gathering dust on the writing-table. In it were the quires of small-sized scribbling paper which he used for his transcripts: and from one of these, as he took it up, there slipped and fluttered out into the room with uncanny quickness, a strip of thin light paper. The window was open, but Harrington slammed it to, just in time to intercept the paper, which he caught. ‘I thought so,’ he said; ‘it might be the identical thing that was given to my brother. You’ll have to look out, Dunning; this may mean something quite serious for you.’
A long consultation took place. The paper was narrowly examined. As Harrington had said, the characters on it were more like Runes than anything else, but not decipherable by either man, and both hesitated to copy them, for fear, as they confessed, of perpetuating whatever evil purpose they might conceal. So it has remained impossible (if I may anticipate a little) to ascertain what was conveyed in this curious message or commission. Both Dunning and Harrington are firmly convinced that it had the effect of bringing its possessors into very undesirable company. That it must be returned to the source whence it came they were agreed, and further, that the only safe and certain way was that of personal service; and here contrivance would be necessary, for Dunning was known by sight to Karswell. He must, for one thing, alter his appearance by shaving his beard. But then might not the blow fall first? Harrington thought they could time it. He knew the date of the concert at which the ‘black spot’ had been put on his brother: it was June 18th. The death had followed on Sept. 18th. Dunning reminded him that three months had been mentioned on the inscription on the car-window. ‘Perhaps,’ he added, with a cheerless laugh, ‘mine may be a bill at three months too. I believe I can fix it by my diary. Yes, April 23rd was the day at the Museum; that brings us to July 23rd. Now, you know, it becomes extremely important to me to know anything you will tell me about the progress of your brother’s trouble, if it is possible for you to speak of it.’ ‘Of course. Well, the sense of being watched whenever he was alone was the most distressing thing to him. After a time I took to sleeping in his room, and he was the better for that: still, he talked a great deal in his sleep. What about? Is it wise to dwell on that, at least before things are straightened out? I think not, but I can tell you this: two things came for him by post during those weeks, both with a London postmark, and addressed in a commercial hand. One was a woodcut of Bewick’s, roughly torn out of the page: one which shows a moonlit road and a man walking along it, followed by an awful demon creature. Under it were written the lines out of the “Ancient Mariner” (which I suppose the cut illustrates) about one who, having once looked round —
And turns no more his head,
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
The other was a calendar, such as tradesmen often send. My brother paid no attention to this, but I looked at it after his death, and found that everything after Sept. 18 had been torn out. You may be surprised at his having gone out alone the evening he was killed, but the fact is that during the last ten days or so of his life he had been quite free from the sense of being followed or watched.’
The end of the consultation was this. Harrington, who knew a neighbour of Karswell’s, thought he saw a way of keeping a watch on his movements. It would be Dunning’s part to be in readiness to try to cross Karswell’s path at any moment, to keep the paper safe and in a place of ready access.
They parted. The next weeks were no doubt a severe strain upon Dunning’s nerves: the intangible barrier which had seemed to rise about him on the day when he received the paper, gradually developed into a brooding blackness that cut him off from the means of escape to which one might have thought he might resort. No one was at hand who was likely to suggest them to him, and he seemed robbed of all initiative. He waited with inexpressible anxiety as May, June, and early July passed on, for a mandate from Harrington. But all this time Karswell remained immovable at Lufford.
At last, in less than a week before the date he had come to look upon as the end of his earthly activities, came a telegram: ‘Leaves Victoria by boat train Thursday night. Do not miss. I come to you to-night. Harrington.’
He arrived accordingly, and they concocted plans. The train left Victoria at nine and its last stop before Dover was Croydon West. Harrington would mark down Karswell at Victoria, and look out for Dunning at Croydon, calling to him if need were by a name agreed upon. Dunning, disguised as far as might be, was to have no label or initials on any hand luggage, and must at all costs have the paper with him.
Dunning’s suspense as he waited on the Croydon platform I need not attempt to describe. His sense of danger during the last days had only been sharpened by the fact that the cloud about him had perceptibly been lighter; but relief was an ominous symptom, and, if Karswell eluded him now, hope was gone: and there were so many chances of that. The rumour of the journey might be itself a device. The twenty minutes in which he paced the platform and persecuted every porter with inquiries as to the boat train were as bitter as any he had spent. Still, the train came, and Harrington was at the window. It was important, of course, that there should be no recognition: so Dunning got in at the farther end of the corridor carriage, and only gradually made his way to the compartment where Harrington and Karswell were. He was pleased, on the whole, to see that the train was far from full.
Karswell was on the alert, but gave no sign of recognition. Dunning took the seat not immediately facing him, and attempted, vainly at first, then with increasing command of his faculties, to reckon the possibilities of making the desired transfer. Opposite to Karswell, and next to Dunning, was a heap of Karswell’s coats on the seat. It would be of no use to slip the paper into these — he would not be safe, or would not feel so, unless in some way it could be proffered by him and accepted by the other. There was a handbag, open, and with papers in it. Could he manage to conceal this (so that perhaps Karswell might leave the carriage without it), and then find and give it to him? This was the plan that suggested itself. If he could only have counselled with Harrington! but that could not be. The minutes went on. More than once Karswell rose and went out into the corridor. The second time Dunning was on the point of attempting to make the bag fall off the seat, but he caught Harrington’s eye, and read in it a warning.
Karswell, from the corridor, was watching: probably to see if the two men recognized each other. He returned, but was evidently restless: and, when he rose the third time, hope dawned, for something did slip off his seat and fall with hardly a sound to the floor. Karswell went out once more, and passed out of range of the corridor window. Dunning picked up what had fallen, and saw that the key was in his hands in the form of one of Cook’s ticket-cases, with tickets in it. These cases have a pocket in the cover, and within very few seconds the paper of which we have heard was in the pocket of this one. To make the operation more secure, Harrington stood in the doorway of the compartment and fiddled with the blind. It was done, and done at the right time, for the train was now slowing down towards Dover.
In a moment more Karswell re-entered the compartment. As he did so, Dunning, managing, he knew not how, to suppress the tremble in his voice, handed him the ticket-case, saying, ‘May I give you this, sir? I believe it is yours.’ After a brief glance at the ticket inside, Karswell uttered the hoped-for response, ‘Yes, it is; much obliged to you, sir,’ and he placed it in his breast pocket.
Even in the few moments that remained — moments of tense anxiety, for they knew not to what a premature finding of the paper might lead — both men noticed that the carriage seemed to darken about them and to grow warmer; that Karswell was fidgety and oppressed; that he drew the heap of loose coats near to him and cast it back as if it repelled him; and that he then sat upright and glanced anxiously at both. They, with sickening anxiety, busied themselves in collecting their belongings; but they both thought that Karswell was on the point of speaking when the train stopped at Dover Town. It was natural that in the short space between town and pier they should both go into the corridor.
At the pier they got out, but so empty was the train that they were forced to linger on the platform until Karswell should have passed ahead of them with his porter on the way to the boat, and only then was it safe for them to exchange a pressure of the hand and a word of concentrated congratulation. The effect upon Dunning was to make him almost faint. Harrington made him lean up against the wall, while he himself went forward a few yards within sight of the gangway to the boat, at which Karswell had now arrived. The man at the head of it examined his ticket, and, laden with coats he passed down into the boat. Suddenly the official called after him, ‘You, sir, beg pardon, did the other gentleman show his ticket?’ ‘What the devil do you mean by the other gentleman?’ Karswell’s snarling voice called back from the deck. The man bent over and looked at him. ‘The devil? Well, I don’t know, I’m sure,’ Harrington heard him say to himself, and then aloud, ‘My mistake, sir; must have been your rugs! ask your pardon.’ And then, to a subordinate near him, ‘‘Ad he got a dog with him, or what? Funny thing: I could ‘a’ swore ‘e wasn’t alone. Well, whatever it was, they’ll ‘ave to see to it aboard. She’s off now. Another week and we shall be gettin’ the ‘oliday customers.’ In five minutes more there was nothing but the lessening lights of the boat, the long line of the Dover lamps, the night breeze, and the moon.
Long and long the two sat in their room at the ‘Lord Warden’. In spite of the removal of their greatest anxiety, they were oppressed with a doubt, not of the lightest. Had they been justified in sending a man to his death, as they believed they had? Ought they not to warn him, at least? ‘No,’ said Harrington; ‘if he is the murderer I think him, we have done no more than is just. Still, if you think it better — but how and where can you warn him?’ ‘He was booked to Abbeville only,’ said Dunning. ‘I saw that. If I wired to the hotels there in Joanne’s Guide, “Examine your ticket-case, Dunning,” I should feel happier. This is the 21st: he will have a day. But I am afraid he has gone into the dark.’ So telegrams were left at the hotel office.
It is not clear whether these reached their destination, or whether, if they did, they were understood. All that is known is that, on the afternoon of the 23rd, an English traveller, examining the front of St Wulfram’s Church at Abbeville, then under extensive repair, was struck on the head and instantly killed by a stone falling from the scaffold erected round the north-western tower, there being, as was clearly proved, no workman on the scaffold at that moment: and the traveller’s papers identified him as Mr Karswell.
Only one detail shall be added. At Karswell’s sale a set of Bewick, sold with all faults, was acquired by Harrington. The page with the woodcut of the traveller and the demon was, as he had expected, mutilated. Also, after a judicious interval, Harrington repeated to Dunning something of what he had heard his brother say in his sleep: but it was not long before Dunning stopped him.
This matter began, as far as I am concerned, with the reading of a notice in the obituary section of the Gentleman’s Magazine for an early year in the nineteenth century:
On February 26th, at his residence in the Cathedral Close of
Barchester, the Venerable John Benwell Haynes, D.D., aged 57,
Archdeacon of Sowerbridge and Rector of Pickhill and Candley. He was
of —— College, Cambridge, and where, by talent and assiduity, he
commanded the esteem of his seniors; when, at the usual time, he took
his first degree, his name stood high in the list of wranglers.
These academical honours procured for him within a short time a
Fellowship of his College. In the year 1783 he received Holy Orders,
and was shortly afterwards presented to the perpetual Curacy of
Ranxton-sub-Ashe by his friend and patron the late truly venerable
Bishop of Lichfield. . . . His speedy preferments, first to a Prebend,
and subsequently to the dignity of Precentor in the Cathedral of
Barchester, form an eloquent testimony to the respect in which he was
held and to his eminent qualifications. He succeeded to the
Archdeaconry upon the sudden decease of Archdeacon Pulteney in 1810.
His sermons, ever conformable to the principles of the religion and
Church which he adorned, displayed in no ordinary degree, without the
least trace of enthusiasm, the refinement of the scholar united with
the graces of the Christian. Free from sectarian violence, and
informed by the spirit of the truest charity, they will long dwell in
the memories of his hearers. [Here a further omission.] The
productions of his pen include an able defence of Episcopacy, which,
though often perused by the author of this tribute to his memory,
affords but one additional instance of the want of liberality and
enterprise which is a too common characteristic of the publishers of
our generation. His published works are, indeed, confined to a
spirited and elegant version of the Argonautica of Valerius Flacus,
a volume of Discourses upon the Several Events in the Life of
Joshua, delivered in his Cathedral, and a number of the charges
which he pronounced at various visitations to the clergy of his
Archdeaconry. These are distinguished by etc., etc. The urbanity and
hospitality of the subject of these lines will not readily be
forgotten by those who enjoyed his acquaintance. His interest in the
venerable and awful pile under whose hoary vault he was so punctual
an attendant, and particularly in the musical portion of its rites,
might be termed filial, and formed a strong and delightful contrast
to the polite indifference displayed by too many of our Cathedral
dignitaries at the present time.
The final paragraph, after informing us that Dr Haynes died a bachelor, says:
It might have been augured that an existence so placid and benevolent
would have been terminated in a ripe old age by a dissolution equally
gradual and calm. But how unsearchable are the workings of
Providence! The peaceful and retired seclusion amid which the
honoured evening of Dr Haynes’ life was mellowing to its close was
destined to be disturbed, nay, shattered, by a tragedy as appalling
as it was unexpected. The morning of the 26th of February —
But perhaps I shall do better to keep back the remainder of the narrative until I have told the circumstances which led up to it. These, as far as they are now accessible, I have derived from another source.
I had read the obituary notice which I have been quoting, quite by chance, along with a great many others of the same period. It had excited some little speculation in my mind, but, beyond thinking that, if I ever had an opportunity of examining the local records of the period indicated, I would try to remember Dr Haynes, I made no effort to pursue his case.
Quite lately I was cataloguing the manuscripts in the library of the college to which he belonged. I had reached the end of the numbered volumes on the shelves, and I proceeded to ask the librarian whether there were any more books which he thought I ought to include in my description. ‘I don’t think there are,’ he said, ‘but we had better come and look at the manuscript class and make sure. Have you time to do that now?’ I had time. We went to the library, checked off the manuscripts, and, at the end of our survey, arrived at a shelf of which I had seen nothing. Its contents consisted for the most part of sermons, bundles of fragmentary papers, college exercises, Cyrus, an epic poem in several cantos, the product of a country clergyman’s leisure, mathematical tracts by a deceased professor, and other similar material of a kind with which I am only too familiar. I took brief notes of these. Lastly, there was a tin box, which was pulled out and dusted. Its label, much faded, was thus inscribed: ‘Papers of the Ven. Archdeacon Haynes. Bequeathed in 1834 by his sister, Miss Letitia Haynes.’
I knew at once that the name was one which I had somewhere encountered, and could very soon locate it. ‘That must be the Archdeacon Haynes who came to a very odd end at Barchester. I’ve read his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine. May I take the box home? Do you know if there is anything interesting in it?’
The librarian was very willing that I should take the box and examine it at leisure. ‘I never looked inside it myself,’ he said, ‘but I’ve always been meaning to. I am pretty sure that is the box which our old Master once said ought never to have been accepted by the college. He said that to Martin years ago; and he said also that as long as he had control over the library it should never be opened. Martin told me about it, and said that he wanted terribly to know what was in it; but the Master was librarian, and always kept the box in the lodge, so there was no getting at it in his time, and when he died it was taken away by mistake by his heirs, and only returned a few years ago. I can’t think why I haven’t opened it; but, as I have to go away from Cambridge this afternoon, you had better have first go at it. I think I can trust you not to publish anything undesirable in our catalogue.’
I took the box home and examined its contents, and thereafter consulted the librarian as to what should be done about publication, and, since I have his leave to make a story out of it, provided I disguised the identity of the people concerned, I will try what can be done.
The materials are, of course, mainly journals and letters. How much I shall quote and how much epitomize must be determined by considerations of space. The proper understanding of the situation has necessitated a little — not very arduous — research, which has been greatly facilitated by the excellent illustrations and text of the Barchester volume in Bell’s Cathedral Series.
When you enter the choir of Barchester Cathedral now, you pass through a screen of metal and coloured marbles, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, and find yourself in what I must call a very bare and odiously furnished place. The stalls are modern, without canopies. The places of the dignitaries and the names of the prebends have fortunately been allowed to survive, and are inscribed on small brass plates affixed to the stalls. The organ is in the triforium, and what is seen of the case is Gothic. The reredos and its surroundings are like every other.
Careful engravings of a hundred years ago show a very different state of things. The organ is on a massive classical screen. The stalls are also classical and very massive. There is a baldacchino of wood over the altar, with urns upon its corners. Farther east is a solid altar screen, classical in design, of wood, with a pediment, in which is a triangle surrounded by rays, enclosing certain Hebrew letters in gold. Cherubs contemplate these. There is a pulpit with a great sounding-board at the eastern end of the stalls on the north side, and there is a black and white marble pavement. Two ladies and a gentleman are admiring the general effect. From other sources I gather that the archdeacon’s stall then, as now, was next to the bishop’s throne at the south-eastern end of the stalls. His house almost faces the west front of the church, and is a fine red-brick building of William the Third’s time.
Here Dr Haynes, already a mature man, took up his abode with his sister in the year 1810. The dignity had long been the object of his wishes, but his predecessor refused to depart until he had attained the age of ninety-two. About a week after he had held a modest festival in celebration of that ninety-second birthday, there came a morning, late in the year, when Dr Haynes, hurrying cheerfully into his breakfast-room, rubbing his hands and humming a tune, was greeted, and checked in his genial flow of spirits, by the sight of his sister, seated, indeed, in her usual place behind the tea-urn, but bowed forward and sobbing unrestrainedly into her handkerchief. ‘What — what is the matter? What bad news?’ he began. ‘Oh, Johnny, you’ve not heard? The poor dear archdeacon!’ ‘The archdeacon, yes? What is it — ill, is he?’ ‘No, no; they found him on the staircase this morning; it is so shocking.’ ‘Is it possible! Dear, dear, poor Pulteney! Had there been any seizure?’ ‘They don’t think so, and that is almost the worst thing about it. It seems to have been all the fault of that stupid maid of theirs, Jane.’ Dr Haynes paused. ‘I don’t quite understand, Letitia. How was the maid at fault?’ ‘Why, as far as I can make out, there was a stair-rod missing, and she never mentioned it, and the poor archdeacon set his foot quite on the edge of the step — you know how slippery that oak is — and it seems he must have fallen almost the whole flight and broken his neck. It is so sad for poor Miss Pulteney. Of course, they will get rid of the girl at once. I never liked her.’ Miss Haynes’s grief resumed its sway, but eventually relaxed so far as to permit of her taking some breakfast. Not so her brother, who, after standing in silence before the window for some minutes, left the room, and did not appear again that morning.
I need only add that the careless maid-servant was dismissed forthwith, but that the missing stair-rod was very shortly afterwards found under the stair-carpet — an additional proof, if any were needed, of extreme stupidity and carelessness on her part.
For a good many years Dr Haynes had been marked out by his ability, which seems to have been really considerable, as the likely successor of Archdeacon Pulteney, and no disappointment was in store for him. He was duly installed, and entered with zeal upon the discharge of those functions which are appropriate to one in his position. A considerable space in his journals is occupied with exclamations upon the confusion in which Archdeacon Pulteney had left the business of his office and the documents appertaining to it. Dues upon Wringham and Barnswood have been uncollected for something like twelve years, and are largely irrecoverable; no visitation has been held for seven years; four chancels are almost past mending. The persons deputized by the archdeacon have been nearly as incapable as himself. It was almost a matter for thankfulness that this state of things had not been permitted to continue, and a letter from a friend confirms this view. ‘[Greek: ho katechôn],’ it says (in rather cruel allusion to the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians), ‘is removed at last. My poor friend! Upon what a scene of confusion will you be entering! I give you my word that, on the last occasion of my crossing his threshold, there was no single paper that he could lay hands upon, no syllable of mine that he could hear, and no fact in connexion with my business that he could remember. But now, thanks to a negligent maid and a loose stair-carpet, there is some prospect that necessary business will be transacted without a complete loss alike of voice and temper.’ This letter was tucked into a pocket in the cover of one of the diaries.
There can be no doubt of the new archdeacon’s zeal and enthusiasm. ‘Give me but time to reduce to some semblance of order the innumerable errors and complications with which I am confronted, and I shall gladly and sincerely join with the aged Israelite in the canticle which too many, I fear, pronounce but with their lips.’ This reflection I find, not in a diary, but a letter; the doctor’s friends seem to have returned his correspondence to his surviving sister. He does not confine himself, however, to reflections. His investigation of the rights and duties of his office are very searching and business-like, and there is a calculation in one place that a period of three years will just suffice to set the business of the Archdeaconry upon a proper footing. The estimate appears to have been an exact one. For just three years he is occupied in reforms; but I look in vain at the end of that time for the promised Nunc dimittis. He has now found a new sphere of activity. Hitherto his duties have precluded him from more than an occasional attendance at the Cathedral services. Now he begins to take an interest in the fabric and the music. Upon his struggles with the organist, an old gentleman who had been in office since 1786, I have no time to dwell; they were not attended with any marked success. More to the purpose is his sudden growth of enthusiasm for the Cathedral itself and its furniture. There is a draft of a letter to Sylvanus Urban (which I do not think was ever sent) describing the stalls in the choir. As I have said, these were of fairly late date — of about the year 1700, in fact.
‘The archdeacon’s stall, situated at the south-east end, west of the episcopal throne (now so worthily occupied by the truly excellent prelate who adorns the See of Barchester), is distinguished by some curious ornamentation. In addition to the arms of Dean West, by whose efforts the whole of the internal furniture of the choir was completed, the prayer-desk is terminated at the eastern extremity by three small but remarkable statuettes in the grotesque manner. One is an exquisitely modelled figure of a cat, whose crouching posture suggests with admirable spirit the suppleness, vigilance, and craft of the redoubted adversary of the genus Mus. Opposite to this is a figure seated upon a throne and invested with the attributes of royalty; but it is no earthly monarch whom the carver has sought to portray. His feet are studiously concealed by the long robe in which he is draped: but neither the crown nor the cap which he wears suffice to hide the prick-ears and curving horns which betray his Tartarean origin; and the hand which rests upon his knee, is armed with talons of horrifying length and sharpness. Between these two figures stands a shape muffled in a long mantle. This might at first sight be mistaken for a monk or “friar of orders gray”, for the head is cowled and a knotted cord depends from somewhere about the waist. A slight inspection, however, will lead to a very different conclusion. The knotted cord is quickly seen to be a halter, held by a hand all but concealed within the draperies; while the sunken features and, horrid to relate, the rent flesh upon the cheek-bones, proclaim the King of Terrors. These figures are evidently the production of no unskilled chisel; and should it chance that any of your correspondents are able to throw light upon their origin and significance, my obligations to your valuable miscellany will be largely increased.’
There is more description in the paper, and, seeing that the woodwork in question has now disappeared, it has a considerable interest. A paragraph at the end is worth quoting:
‘Some late researches among the Chapter accounts have shown me that the carving of the stalls was not as was very usually reported, the work of Dutch artists, but was executed by a native of this city or district named Austin. The timber was procured from an oak copse in the vicinity, the property of the Dean and Chapter, known as Holywood. Upon a recent visit to the parish within whose boundaries it is situated, I learned from the aged and truly respectable incumbent that traditions still lingered amongst the inhabitants of the great size and age of the oaks employed to furnish the materials of the stately structure which has been, however imperfectly, described in the above lines. Of one in particular, which stood near the centre of the grove, it is remembered that it was known as the Hanging Oak. The propriety of that title is confirmed by the fact that a quantity of human bones was found in the soil about its roots, and that at certain times of the year it was the custom for those who wished to secure a successful issue to their affairs, whether of love or the ordinary business of life, to suspend from its boughs small images or puppets rudely fashioned of straw, twigs, or the like rustic materials.’
So much for the archdeacon’s archaeological investigations. To return to his career as it is to be gathered from his diaries. Those of his first three years of hard and careful work show him throughout in high spirits, and, doubtless, during this time, that reputation for hospitality and urbanity which is mentioned in his obituary notice was well deserved. After that, as time goes on, I see a shadow coming over him — destined to develop into utter blackness — which I cannot but think must have been reflected in his outward demeanour. He commits a good deal of his fears and troubles to his diary; there was no other outlet for them. He was unmarried and his sister was not always with him. But I am much mistaken if he has told all that he might have told. A series of extracts shall be given:
Aug. 30th 1816 — The days begin to draw in more perceptibly than
ever. Now that the Archdeaconry papers are reduced to order, I must
find some further employment for the evening hours of autumn and
winter. It is a great blow that Letitia’s health will not allow her
to stay through these months. Why not go on with my Defence of
Episcopacy? It may be useful.
Sept. 15. — Letitia has left me for Brighton.
Oct. 11. — Candles lit in the choir for the first time at evening
prayers. It came as a shock: I find that I absolutely shrink from the
Nov. 17 — Much struck by the character of the carving on my desk: I
do not know that I had ever carefully noticed it before. My attention
was called to it by an accident. During the Magnificat I was, I
regret to say, almost overcome with sleep. My hand was resting on the
back of the carved figure of a cat which is the nearest to me of the
three figures on the end of my stall. I was not aware of this, for I
was not looking in that direction, until I was startled by what
seemed a softness, a feeling as of rather rough and coarse fur, and a
sudden movement, as if the creature were twisting round its head to
bite me. I regained complete consciousness in an instant, and I have
some idea that I must have uttered a suppressed exclamation, for I
noticed that Mr Treasurer turned his head quickly in my direction.
The impression of the unpleasant feeling was so strong that I found
myself rubbing my hand upon my surplice. This accident led me to
examine the figures after prayers more carefully than I had done
before, and I realized for the first time with what skill they are
Dec. 6 — I do indeed miss Letitia’s company. The evenings, after I
have worked as long as I can at my Defence, are very trying. The
house is too large for a lonely man, and visitors of any kind are too
rare. I get an uncomfortable impression when going to my room that
there is company of some kind. The fact is (I may as well formulate
it to myself) that I hear voices. This, I am well aware, is a common
symptom of incipient decay of the brain — and I believe that I should
be less disquieted than I am if I had any suspicion that this was the
cause. I have none — none whatever, nor is there anything in my family
history to give colour to such an idea. Work, diligent work, and a
punctual attention to the duties which fall to me is my best remedy,
and I have little doubt that it will prove efficacious.
Jan. 1 — My trouble is, I must confess it, increasing upon me. Last
night, upon my return after midnight from the Deanery, I lit my
candle to go upstairs. I was nearly at the top when something
whispered to me, ‘Let me wish you a happy New Year.’ I could not be
mistaken: it spoke distinctly and with a peculiar emphasis. Had I
dropped my candle, as I all but did, I tremble to think what the
consequences must have been. As it was, I managed to get up the last
flight, and was quickly in my room with the door locked, and
experienced no other disturbance.
Jan. 15 — I had occasion to come downstairs last night to my
workroom for my watch, which I had inadvertently left on my table
when I went up to bed. I think I was at the top of the last flight
when I had a sudden impression of a sharp whisper in my ear ‘Take
care.’ I clutched the balusters and naturally looked round at once.
Of course, there was nothing. After a moment I went on — it was no
good turning back — but I had as nearly as possible fallen: a cat — a
large one by the feel of it — slipped between my feet, but again, of
course, I saw nothing. It may have been the kitchen cat, but I do
not think it was.
Feb. 27 — A curious thing last night, which I should like to forget.
Perhaps if I put it down here I may see it in its true proportion. I
worked in the library from about 9 to 10. The hall and staircase
seemed to be unusually full of what I can only call movement without
sound: by this I mean that there seemed to be continuous going and
coming, and that whenever I ceased writing to listen, or looked out
into the hall, the stillness was absolutely unbroken. Nor, in going
to my room at an earlier hour than usual — about half-past ten — was I
conscious of anything that I could call a noise. It so happened that
I had told John to come to my room for the letter to the bishop which
I wished to have delivered early in the morning at the Palace. He was
to sit up, therefore, and come for it when he heard me retire. This I
had for the moment forgotten, though I had remembered to carry the
letter with me to my room. But when, as I was winding up my watch, I
heard a light tap at the door, and a low voice saying, ‘May I come
in?’ (which I most undoubtedly did hear), I recollected the fact, and
took up the letter from my dressing-table, saying ‘Certainly: come
in.’ No one, however, answered my summons, and it was now that, as I
strongly suspect, I committed an error: for I opened the door and
held the letter out. There was certainly no one at that moment in the
passage, but, in the instant of my standing there, the door at the
end opened and John appeared carrying a candle. I asked him whether
he had come to the door earlier; but am satisfied that he had not. I
do not like the situation; but although my senses were very much on
the alert, and though it was some time before I could sleep, I must
allow that I perceived nothing further of an untoward character.
With the return of spring, when his sister came to live with him for some months, Dr Haynes’s entries become more cheerful, and, indeed, no symptom of depression is discernible until the early part of September when he was again left alone. And now, indeed, there is evidence that he was incommoded again, and that more pressingly. To this matter I will return in a moment, but I digress to put in a document which, rightly or wrongly, I believe to have a bearing on the thread of the story.
The account-books of Dr Haynes, preserved along with his other papers, show, from a date but little later than that of his institution as archdeacon, a quarterly payment of £25 to J. L. Nothing could have been made of this, had it stood by itself. But I connect with it a very dirty and ill-written letter, which, like another that I have quoted, was in a pocket in the cover of a diary. Of date or postmark there is no vestige, and the decipherment was not easy. It appears to run:
I have bin expctin to her off you theis last wicks, and not Haveing
done so must supose you have not got mine witch was saying how me and
my man had met in with bad times this season all seems to go cross
with us on the farm and which way to look for the rent we have no
knowledge of it this been the sad case with us if you would have the
great [liberality probably, but the exact spelling defies
reproduction] to send fourty pounds otherwise steps will have to be
took which I should not wish. Has you was the Means of me losing my
place with Dr Pulteney I think it is only just what I am asking and
you know best what I could say if I was Put to it but I do not wish
anything of that unpleasant Nature being one that always wish to have
everything Pleasant about me.
Your obedt Servt,
About the time at which I suppose this letter to have been written there is, in fact, a payment of £40 to J.L.
We return to the diary:
Oct. 22 — At evening prayers, during the Psalms, I had that same
experience which I recollect from last year. I was resting my hand on
one of the carved figures, as before (I usually avoid that of the cat
now), and — I was going to have said — a change came over it, but that
seems attributing too much importance to what must, after all, be due
to some physical affection in myself: at any rate, the wood seemed to
become chilly and soft as if made of wet linen. I can assign the
moment at which I became sensible of this. The choir were singing the
words (Set thou an ungodly man to be ruler over him and let Satan
stand at his right hand.)
The whispering in my house was more persistent tonight. I seemed not
to be rid of it in my room. I have not noticed this before. A nervous
man, which I am not, and hope I am not becoming, would have been much
annoyed, if not alarmed, by it. The cat was on the stairs tonight. I
think it sits there always. There is no kitchen cat.
Nov. 15 — Here again I must note a matter I do not understand. I am
much troubled in sleep. No definite image presented itself, but I was
pursued by the very vivid impression that wet lips were whispering
into my ear with great rapidity and emphasis for some time together.
After this, I suppose, I fell asleep, but was awakened with a start
by a feeling as if a hand were laid on my shoulder. To my intense
alarm I found myself standing at the top of the lowest flight of the
first staircase. The moon was shining brightly enough through the
large window to let me see that there was a large cat on the second
or third step. I can make no comment. I crept up to bed again, I do
not know how. Yes, mine is a heavy burden. [Then follows a line or
two which has been scratched out. I fancy I read something like
‘acted for the best’.]
Not long after this it is evident to me that the archdeacon’s firmness began to give way under the pressure of these phenomena. I omit as unnecessarily painful and distressing the ejaculations and prayers which, in the months of December and January, appear for the first time and become increasingly frequent. Throughout this time, however, he is obstinate in clinging to his post. Why he did not plead ill-health and take refuge at Bath or Brighton I cannot tell; my impression is that it would have done him no good; that he was a man who, if he had confessed himself beaten by the annoyances, would have succumbed at once, and that he was conscious of this. He did seek to palliate them by inviting visitors to his house. The result he has noted in this fashion:
Jan. 7 — I have prevailed on my cousin Allen to give me a few days,
and he is to occupy the chamber next to mine.
Jan. 8 — A still night. Allen slept well, but complained of the
wind. My own experiences were as before: still whispering and
whispering: what is it that he wants to say?
Jan. 9 — Allen thinks this a very noisy house. He thinks, too, that
my cat is an unusually large and fine specimen, but very wild.
Jan. 10 — Allen and I in the library until 11. He left me twice to
see what the maids were doing in the hall: returning the second time
he told me he had seen one of them passing through the door at the
end of the passage, and said if his wife were here she would soon get
them into better order. I asked him what coloured dress the maid
wore; he said grey or white. I supposed it would be so.
Jan. 11 — Allen left me today. I must be firm.
These words, I must be firm, occur again and again on subsequent days; sometimes they are the only entry. In these cases they are in an unusually large hand, and dug into the paper in a way which must have broken the pen that wrote them.
Apparently the archdeacon’s friends did not remark any change in his behaviour, and this gives me a high idea of his courage and determination. The diary tells us nothing more than I have indicated of the last days of his life. The end of it all must be told in the polished language of the obituary notice:
The morning of the 26th of February was cold and tempestuous. At an
early hour the servants had occasion to go into the front hall of the
residence occupied by the lamented subject of these lines. What was
their horror upon observing the form of their beloved and respected
master lying upon the landing of the principal staircase in an
attitude which inspired the gravest fears. Assistance was procured,
and an universal consternation was experienced upon the discovery
that he had been the object of a brutal and a murderous attack. The
vertebral column was fractured in more than one place. This might
have been the result of a fall: it appeared that the stair-carpet was
loosened at one point. But, in addition to this, there were injuries
inflicted upon the eyes, nose and mouth, as if by the agency of some
savage animal, which, dreadful to relate, rendered those features
unrecognizable. The vital spark was, it is needless to add,
completely extinct, and had been so, upon the testimony of
respectable medical authorities, for several hours. The author or
authors of this mysterious outrage are alike buried in mystery, and
the most active conjecture has hitherto failed to suggest a solution
of the melancholy problem afforded by this appalling occurrence.
The writer goes on to reflect upon the probability that the writings of Mr Shelley, Lord Byron, and M. Voltaire may have been instrumental in bringing about the disaster, and concludes by hoping, somewhat vaguely, that this event may ‘operate as an example to the rising generation’; but this portion of his remarks need not be quoted in full.
I had already formed the conclusion that Dr Haynes was responsible for the death of Dr Pulteney. But the incident connected with the carved figure of death upon the archdeacon’s stall was a very perplexing feature. The conjecture that it had been cut out of the wood of the Hanging Oak was not difficult, but seemed impossible to substantiate. However, I paid a visit to Barchester, partly with the view of finding out whether there were any relics of the woodwork to be heard of. I was introduced by one of the canons to the curator of the local museum, who was, my friend said, more likely to be able to give me information on the point than anyone else. I told this gentleman of the description of certain carved figures and arms formerly on the stalls, and asked whether any had survived. He was able to show me the arms of Dean West and some other fragments. These, he said, had been got from an old resident, who had also once owned a figure — perhaps one of those which I was inquiring for. There was a very odd thing about that figure, he said. ‘The old man who had it told me that he picked it up in a woodyard, whence he had obtained the still extant pieces, and had taken it home for his children. On the way home he was fiddling about with it and it came in two in his hands, and a bit of paper dropped out. This he picked up and, just noticing that there was writing on it, put it into his pocket, and subsequently into a vase on his mantelpiece. I was at his house not very long ago, and happened to pick up the vase and turn it over to see whether there were any marks on it, and the paper fell into my hand. The old man, on my handing it to him, told me the story I have told you, and said I might keep the paper. It was crumpled and rather torn, so I have mounted it on a card, which I have here. If you can tell me what it means I shall be very glad, and also, I may say, a good deal surprised.’
He gave me the card. The paper was quite legibly inscribed in an old hand, and this is what was on it:
When I grew in the Wood I was water’d w’th Blood Now in the Church I stand Who that touches me with his Hand If a Bloody hand he bear I councell him to be ware Lest he be fetcht away Whether by night or day, But chiefly when the wind blows high In a night of February. This I drempt, 26 Febr. Anno 1699. JOHN AUSTIN.
‘I suppose it is a charm or a spell: wouldn’t you call it something of that kind?’ said the curator.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I suppose one might. What became of the figure in which it was concealed?’
‘Oh, I forgot,’ said he. ‘The old man told me it was so ugly and frightened his children so much that he burnt it.’
Some few years back I was staying with the rector of a parish in the West, where the society to which I belong owns property. I was to go over some of this land: and, on the first morning of my visit, soon after breakfast, the estate carpenter and general handyman, John Hill, was announced as in readiness to accompany us. The rector asked which part of the parish we were to visit that morning. The estate map was produced, and when we had showed him our round, he put his finger on a particular spot. ‘Don’t forget,’ he said, ‘to ask John Hill about Martin’s Close when you get there. I should like to hear what he tells you.’ ‘What ought he to tell us?’ I said. ‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the rector, ‘or, if that is not exactly true, it will do till lunch-time.’ And here he was called away.
We set out; John Hill is not a man to withhold such information as he possesses on any point, and you may gather from him much that is of interest about the people of the place and their talk. An unfamiliar word, or one that he thinks ought to be unfamiliar to you, he will usually spell — as c-o-b cob, and the like. It is not, however, relevant to my purpose to record his conversation before the moment when we reached Martin’s Close. The bit of land is noticeable, for it is one of the smallest enclosures you are likely to see — a very few square yards, hedged in with quickset on all sides, and without any gate or gap leading into it. You might take it for a small cottage garden long deserted, but that it lies away from the village and bears no trace of cultivation. It is at no great distance from the road, and is part of what is there called a moor, in other words, a rough upland pasture cut up into largish fields.
‘Why is this little bit hedged off so?’ I asked, and John Hill (whose answer I cannot represent as perfectly as I should like) was not at fault. ‘That’s what we call Martin’s Close, sir: ‘tes a curious thing ‘bout that bit of land, sir: goes by the name of Martin’s Close, sir. M-a-r-t-i-n Martin. Beg pardon, sir, did Rector tell you to make inquiry of me ‘bout that, sir?’ ‘Yes, he did.’ ‘Ah, I thought so much, sir. I was tell’n Rector ‘bout that last week, and he was very much interested. It ‘pears there’s a murderer buried there, sir, by the name of Martin. Old Samuel Saunders, that formerly lived yurr at what we call South-town, sir, he had a long tale ‘bout that, sir: terrible murder done ‘pon a young woman, sir. Cut her throat and cast her in the water down yurr.’ ‘Was he hung for it?’ ‘Yes, sir, he was hung just up yurr on the roadway, by what I’ve ‘eard, on the Holy Innocents’ Day, many ‘undred years ago, by the man that went by the name of the bloody judge: terrible red and bloody, I’ve ‘eard.’ ‘Was his name Jeffreys, do you think?’ ‘Might be possible ’twas — Jeffreys — J-e-f — Jeffreys. I reckon ’twas, and the tale I’ve ‘eard many times from Mr Saunders — how this young man Martin — George Martin — was troubled before his crule action come to light by the young woman’s sperit.’ ‘How was that, do you know?’ ‘No, sir, I don’t exactly know how ’twas with it: but by what I’ve ‘eard he was fairly tormented; and rightly tu. Old Mr Saunders, he told a history regarding a cupboard down yurr in the New Inn. According to what he related, this young woman’s sperit come out of this cupboard: but I don’t racollact the matter.’
This was the sum of John Hill’s information. We passed on, and in due time I reported what I had heard to the Rector. He was able to show me from the parish account-books that a gibbet had been paid for in 1684, and a grave dug in the following year, both for the benefit of George Martin; but he was unable to suggest anyone in the parish, Saunders being now gone, who was likely to throw any further light on the story.
Naturally, upon my return to the neighbourhood of libraries, I made search in the more obvious places. The trial seemed to be nowhere reported. A newspaper of the time, and one or more news-letters, however, had some short notices, from which I learnt that, on the ground of local prejudice against the prisoner (he was described as a young gentleman of a good estate), the venue had been moved from Exeter to London; that Jeffreys had been the judge, and death the sentence, and that there had been some ‘singular passages’ in the evidence. Nothing further transpired till September of this year. A friend who knew me to be interested in Jeffreys then sent me a leaf torn out of a second-hand bookseller’s catalogue with the entry: JEFFREYS, JUDGE: Interesting old MS. trial for murder, and so forth, from which I gathered, to my delight, that I could become possessed, for a very few shillings, of what seemed to be a verbatim report, in shorthand, of the Martin trial. I telegraphed for the manuscript and got it. It was a thin bound volume, provided with a title written in longhand by someone in the eighteenth century, who had also added this note: ‘My father, who took these notes in court, told me that the prisoner’s friends had made interest with Judge Jeffreys that no report should be put out: he had intended doing this himself when times were better, and had shew’d it to the Revd Mr Glanvil, who incourag’d his design very warmly, but death surpriz’d them both before it could be brought to an accomplishment.’
The initials W. G. are appended; I am advised that the original reporter may have been T. Gurney, who appears in that capacity in more than one State trial.
This was all that I could read for myself. After no long delay I heard of someone who was capable of deciphering the shorthand of the seventeenth century, and a little time ago the typewritten copy of the whole manuscript was laid before me. The portions which I shall communicate here help to fill in the very imperfect outline which subsists in the memories of John Hill and, I suppose, one or two others who live on the scene of the events.
The report begins with a species of preface, the general effect of which is that the copy is not that actually taken in court, though it is a true copy in regard to the notes of what was said; but that the writer has added to it some ‘remarkable passages’ that took place during the trial, and has made this present fair copy of the whole, intending at some favourable time to publish it; but has not put it into longhand, lest it should fall into the possession of unauthorized persons, and he or his family be deprived of the profit.
The report then begins:
This case came on to be tried on Wednesday, the 19th of November, between our sovereign lord the King, and George Martin Esquire, of (I take leave to omit some of the place-names), at a sessions of oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, at the Old Bailey, and the prisoner, being in Newgate, was brought to the bar.
Clerk of the Crown. George Martin, hold up thy hand (which he did).
Then the indictment was read, which set forth that the prisoner, ‘not having the fear of God before his eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil, upon the 15th day of May, in the 36th year of our sovereign lord King Charles the Second, with force and arms in the parish aforesaid, in and upon Ann Clark, spinster, of the same place, in the peace of God and of our said sovereign lord the King then and there being, feloniously, wilfully, and of your malice aforethought did make an assault and with a certain knife value a penny the throat of the said Ann Clark then and there did cut, of the which wound the said Ann Clark then and there did die, and the body of the said Ann Clark did cast into a certain pond of water situate in the same parish (with more that is not material to our purpose) against the peace of our sovereign lord the King, his crown and dignity.’
Then the prisoner prayed a copy of the indictment.
L.C.J. (Sir George Jeffreys). What is this? Sure you know that is never allowed. Besides, here is as plain indictment as ever I heard; you have nothing to do but to plead to it.
Pris. My lord, I apprehend there may be matter of law arising out of the indictment, and I would humbly beg the court to assign me counsel to consider of it. Besides, my lord, I believe it was done in another case: copy of the indictment was allowed.
L.C.J. What case was that?
Pris. Truly, my lord, I have been kept close prisoner ever since I came up from Exeter Castle, and no one allowed to come at me and no one to advise with.
L.C.J. But I say, what was that case you allege?
Pris. My lord, I cannot tell your lordship precisely the name of the case, but it is in my mind that there was such an one, and I would humbly desire —
L.C.J. All this is nothing. Name your case, and we will tell you whether there be any matter for you in it. God forbid but you should have anything that may be allowed you by law: but this is against law, and we must keep the course of the court.
Att.-Gen. (Sir Robert Sawyer). My lord, we pray for the King that he may be asked to plead.
Cl. of Ct. Are you guilty of the murder whereof you stand indicted, or not guilty?
Pris. My lord, I would humbly offer this to the court. If I plead now, shall I have an opportunity after to except against the indictment?
L.C.J. Yes, yes, that comes after verdict: that will be saved to you, and counsel assigned if there be matter of law, but that which you have now to do is to plead.
Then after some little parleying with the court (which seemed strange upon such a plain indictment) the prisoner pleaded Not Guilty.
Cl. of Ct. Culprit. How wilt thou be tried?
Pris. By God and my country.
Cl. of Ct. God send thee a good deliverance.
L.C.J. Why, how is this? Here has been a great to-do that you should not be tried at Exeter by your country, but be brought here to London, and now you ask to be tried by your country. Must we send you to Exeter again?
Pris. My lord, I understood it was the form.
L.C.J. So it is, man: we spoke only in the way of pleasantness. Well, go on and swear the jury.
So they were sworn. I omit the names. There was no challenging on the prisoner’s part, for, as he said, he did not know any of the persons called. Thereupon the prisoner asked for the use of pen, ink, and paper, to which the L. C. J. replied: ‘Ay, ay, in God’s name let him have it.’ Then the usual charge was delivered to the jury, and the case opened by the junior counsel for the King, Mr Dolben.
The Attorney–General followed:
May it please your lordship, and you gentlemen of the jury, I am of counsel for the King against the prisoner at the bar. You have heard that he stands indicted for a murder done upon the person of a young girl. Such crimes as this you may perhaps reckon to be not uncommon, and, indeed, in these times, I am sorry to say it, there is scarce any fact so barbarous and unnatural but what we may hear almost daily instances of it. But I must confess that in this murder that is charged upon the prisoner there are some particular features that mark it out to be such as I hope has but seldom if ever been perpetrated upon English ground. For as we shall make it appear, the person murdered was a poor country girl (whereas the prisoner is a gentleman of a proper estate) and, besides that, was one to whom Providence had not given the full use of her intellects, but was what is termed among us commonly an innocent or natural: such an one, therefore, as one would have supposed a gentleman of the prisoner’s quality more likely to overlook, or, if he did notice her, to be moved to compassion for her unhappy condition, than to lift up his hand against her in the very horrid and barbarous manner which we shall show you he used.
Now to begin at the beginning and open the matter to you orderly: About Christmas of last year, that is the year 1683, this gentleman, Mr Martin, having newly come back into his own country from the University of Cambridge, some of his neighbours, to show him what civility they could (for his family is one that stands in very good repute all over that country), entertained him here and there at their Christmas merrymakings, so that he was constantly riding to and fro, from one house to another, and sometimes, when the place of his destination was distant, or for other reason, as the unsafeness of the roads, he would be constrained to lie the night at an inn. In this way it happened that he came, a day or two after the Christmas, to the place where this young girl lived with her parents, and put up at the inn there, called the New Inn, which is, as I am informed, a house of good repute. Here was some dancing going on among the people of the place, and Ann Clark had been brought in, it seems, by her elder sister to look on; but being, as I have said, of weak understanding, and, besides that, very uncomely in her appearance, it was not likely she should take much part in the merriment; and accordingly was but standing by in a corner of the room. The prisoner at the bar, seeing her, one must suppose by way of a jest, asked her would she dance with him. And in spite of what her sister and others could say to prevent it and to dissuade her —
L.C.J. Come, Mr Attorney, we are not set here to listen to tales of Christmas parties in taverns. I would not interrupt you, but sure you have more weighty matters than this. You will be telling us next what tune they danced to.
Att. My lord, I would not take up the time of the court with what is not material: but we reckon it to be material to show how this unlikely acquaintance begun: and as for the tune, I believe, indeed, our evidence will show that even that hath a bearing on the matter in hand.
L.C.J. Go on, go on, in God’s name: but give us nothing that is impertinent.
Att. Indeed, my lord, I will keep to my matter. But, gentlemen, having now shown you, as I think, enough of this first meeting between the murdered person and the prisoner, I will shorten my tale so far as to say that from then on there were frequent meetings of the two: for the young woman was greatly tickled with having got hold (as she conceived it) of so likely a sweetheart, and he being once a week at least in the habit of passing through the street where she lived, she would be always on the watch for him; and it seems they had a signal arranged: he should whistle the tune that was played at the tavern: it is a tune, as I am informed, well known in that country, and has a burden, ‘Madam, will you walk, will you talk with me?’
L.C.J. Ay, I remember it in my own country, in Shropshire. It runs somehow thus, doth it not? [Here his lordship whistled a part of a tune, which was very observable, and seemed below the dignity of the court. And it appears he felt it so himself, for he said:] But this is by the mark, and I doubt it is the first time we have had dance-tunes in this court. The most part of the dancing we give occasion for is done at Tyburn. [Looking at the prisoner, who appeared very much disordered.] You said the tune was material to your case, Mr Attorney, and upon my life I think Mr Martin agrees with you. What ails you, man? staring like a player that sees a ghost!
Pris. My lord, I was amazed at hearing such trivial, foolish things as they bring against me.
L.C.J. Well, well, it lies upon Mr Attorney to show whether they be trivial or not: but I must say, if he has nothing worse than this he has said, you have no great cause to be in amaze. Doth it not lie something deeper? But go on, Mr Attorney.
Att. My lord and gentlemen — all that I have said so far you may indeed very reasonably reckon as having an appearance of triviality. And, to be sure, had the matter gone no further than the humouring of a poor silly girl by a young gentleman of quality, it had been very well. But to proceed. We shall make it appear that after three or four weeks the prisoner became contracted to a young gentlewoman of that country, one suitable every way to his own condition, and such an arrangement was on foot that seemed to promise him a happy and a reputable living. But within no very long time it seems that this young gentlewoman, hearing of the jest that was going about that countryside with regard to the prisoner and Ann Clark, conceived that it was not only an unworthy carriage on the part of her lover, but a derogation to herself that he should suffer his name to be sport for tavern company: and so without more ado she, with the consent of her parents, signified to the prisoner that the match between them was at an end. We shall show you that upon the receipt of this intelligence the prisoner was greatly enraged against Ann Clark as being the cause of his misfortune (though indeed there was nobody answerable for it but himself), and that he made use of many outrageous expressions and threatenings against her, and subsequently upon meeting with her both abused her and struck at her with his whip: but she, being but a poor innocent, could not be persuaded to desist from her attachment to him, but would often run after him testifying with gestures and broken words the affection she had to him: until she was become, as he said, the very plague of his life. Yet, being that affairs in which he was now engaged necessarily took him by the house in which she lived, he could not (as I am willing to believe he would otherwise have done) avoid meeting with her from time to time. We shall further show you that this was the posture of things up to the 15th day of May in this present year. Upon that day the prisoner comes riding through the village, as of custom, and met with the young woman: but in place of passing her by, as he had lately done, he stopped, and said some words to her with which she appeared wonderfully pleased, and so left her; and after that day she was nowhere to be found, notwithstanding a strict search was made for her. The next time of the prisoner’s passing through the place, her relations inquired of him whether he should know anything of her whereabouts; which he totally denied. They expressed to him their fears lest her weak intellects should have been upset by the attention he had showed her, and so she might have committed some rash act against her own life, calling him to witness the same time how often they had beseeched him to desist from taking notice of her, as fearing trouble might come of it: but this, too, he easily laughed away. But in spite of this light behaviour, it was noticeable in him that about this time his carriage and demeanour changed, and it was said of him that he seemed a troubled man. And here I come to a passage to which I should not dare to ask your attention, but that it appears to me to be founded in truth, and is supported by testimony deserving of credit. And, gentlemen, to my judgement it doth afford a great instance of God’s revenge against murder, and that He will require the blood of the innocent.
[Here Mr Attorney made a pause, and shifted with his papers: and it was thought remarkable by me and others, because he was a man not easily dashed.]
L.C.J. Well, Mr Attorney, what is your instance?
Att. My lord, it is a strange one, and the truth is that, of all the cases I have been concerned in, I cannot call to mind the like of it. But to be short, gentlemen, we shall bring you testimony that Ann Clark was seen after this 15th of May, and that, at such time as she was so seen, it was impossible she could have been a living person.
[Here the people made a hum, and a good deal of laughter, and the Court called for silence, and when it was made]—
L.C.J. Why, Mr Attorney, you might save up this tale for a week; it will be Christmas by that time, and you can frighten your cook-maids with it [at which the people laughed again, and the prisoner also, as it seemed]. God, man, what are you prating of — ghosts and Christmas jigs and tavern company — and here is a man’s life at stake! [To the prisoner]: And you, sir, I would have you know there is not so much occasion for you to make merry neither. You were not brought here for that, and if I know Mr Attorney, he has more in his brief than he has shown yet. Go on, Mr Attorney. I need not, mayhap, have spoken so sharply, but you must confess your course is something unusual.
Att. Nobody knows it better than I, my lord: but I shall bring it to an end with a round turn. I shall show you, gentlemen, that Ann Clark’s body was found in the month of June, in a pond of water, with the throat cut: that a knife belonging to the prisoner was found in the same water: that he made efforts to recover the said knife from the water: that the coroner’s quest brought in a verdict against the prisoner at the bar, and that therefore he should by course have been tried at Exeter: but that, suit being made on his behalf, on account that an impartial jury could not be found to try him in his own country, he hath had that singular favour shown him that he should be tried here in London. And so we will proceed to call our evidence.
Then the facts of the acquaintance between the prisoner and Ann Clark were proved, and also the coroner’s inquest. I pass over this portion of the trial, for it offers nothing of special interest.
Sarah Arscott was next called and sworn.
Att. What is your occupation?
S. I keep the New Inn at —.
Att. Do you know the prisoner at the bar?
S. Yes: he was often at our house since he come first at Christmas of last year.
Att. Did you know Ann Clark?
S. Yes, very well.
Att. Pray, what manner of person was she in her appearance?
S. She was a very short thick-made woman: I do not know what else you would have me say.
Att. Was she comely?
S. No, not by no manner of means: she was very uncomely, poor child! She had a great face and hanging chops and a very bad colour like a puddock.
L.C.J. What is that, mistress? What say you she was like?
S. My lord, I ask pardon; I heard Esquire Martin say she looked like a puddock in the face; and so she did.
L.C.J. Did you that? Can you interpret her, Mr Attorney?
Att. My lord, I apprehend it is the country word for a toad.
L.C.J. Oh, a hop-toad! Ay, go on.
Att. Will you give an account to the jury of what passed between you and the prisoner at the bar in May last?
S. Sir, it was this. It was about nine o’clock the evening after that Ann did not come home, and I was about my work in the house; there was no company there only Thomas Snell, and it was foul weather. Esquire Martin came in and called for some drink, and I, by way of pleasantry, I said to him, “Squire, have you been looking after your sweetheart?” and he flew out at me in a passion and desired I would not use such expressions. I was amazed at that, because we were accustomed to joke with him about her.
L.C.J. Who, her?
S. Ann Clark, my lord. And we had not heard the news of his being contracted to a young gentlewoman elsewhere, or I am sure I should have used better manners. So I said nothing, but being I was a little put out, I begun singing, to myself as it were, the song they danced to the first time they met, for I thought it would prick him. It was the same that he was used to sing when he came down the street; I have heard it very often: ‘Madam, will you walk, will you talk with me?’ And it fell out that I needed something that was in the kitchen. So I went out to get it, and all the time I went on singing, something louder and more bold-like. And as I was there all of a sudden I thought I heard someone answering outside the house, but I could not be sure because of the wind blowing so high. So then I stopped singing, and now I heard it plain, saying, ‘Yes, sir, I will walk, I will talk with you,’ and I knew the voice for Ann Clark’s voice.
Att. How did you know it to be her voice?
S. It was impossible I could be mistaken. She had a dreadful voice, a kind of a squalling voice, in particular if she tried to sing. And there was nobody in the village that could counterfeit it, for they often tried. So, hearing that, I was glad, because we were all in an anxiety to know what was gone with her: for though she was a natural, she had a good disposition and was very tractable: and says I to myself, ‘What, child! are you returned, then?’ and I ran into the front room, and said to Squire Martin as I passed by, ‘Squire, here is your sweetheart back again: shall I call her in?’ and with that I went to open the door; but Squire Martin he caught hold of me, and it seemed to me he was out of his wits, or near upon. ‘Hold, woman,’ says he, ‘in God’s name!’ and I know not what else: he was all of a shake. Then I was angry, and said I, ‘What! are you not glad that poor child is found?’ and I called to Thomas Snell and said, ‘If the Squire will not let me, do you open the door and call her in.’ So Thomas Snell went and opened the door, and the wind setting that way blew in and overset the two candles that was all we had lighted: and Esquire Martin fell away from holding me; I think he fell down on the floor, but we were wholly in the dark, and it was a minute or two before I got a light again: and while I was feeling for the fire-box, I am not certain but I heard someone step ‘cross the floor, and I am sure I heard the door of the great cupboard that stands in the room open and shut to. Then, when I had a light again, I see Esquire Martin on the settle, all white and sweaty as if he had swounded away, and his arms hanging down; and I was going to help him; but just then it caught my eye that there was something like a bit of a dress shut into the cupboard door, and it came to my mind I had heard that door shut. So I thought it might be some person had run in when the light was quenched, and was hiding in the cupboard. So I went up closer and looked: and there was a bit of a black stuff cloak, and just below it an edge of a brown stuff dress, both sticking out of the shut of the door: and both of them was low down, as if the person that had them on might be crouched down inside.
Att. What did you take it to be?
S. I took it to be a woman’s dress.
Att. Could you make any guess whom it belonged to? Did you know anyone who wore such a dress?
S. It was a common stuff, by what I could see. I have seen many women wearing such a stuff in our parish.
Att. Was it like Ann Clark’s dress?
S. She used to wear just such a dress: but I could not say on my oath it was hers.
Att. Did you observe anything else about it?
S. I did notice that it looked very wet: but it was foul weather outside.
L.C.J. Did you feel of it, mistress?
S. No, my lord, I did not like to touch it.
L.C.J. Not like? Why that? Are you so nice that you scruple to feel of a wet dress?
S. Indeed, my lord, I cannot very well tell why: only it had a nasty ugly look about it.
L.C.J. Well, go on.
S. Then I called again to Thomas Snell, and bid him come to me and catch anyone that come out when I should open the cupboard door, ‘for,’ says I, ‘there is someone hiding within, and I would know what she wants.’ And with that Squire Martin gave a sort of a cry or a shout and ran out of the house into the dark, and I felt the cupboard door pushed out against me while I held it, and Thomas Snell helped me: but for all we pressed to keep it shut as hard as we could, it was forced out against us, and we had to fall back.
L.C.J. And pray what came out — a mouse?
S. No, my lord, it was greater than a mouse, but I could not see what it was: it fleeted very swift over the floor and out at the door.
L.C.J. But come; what did it look like? Was it a person?
S. My lord, I cannot tell what it was, but it ran very low, and it was of a dark colour. We were both daunted by it, Thomas Snell and I, but we made all the haste we could after it to the door that stood open. And we looked out, but it was dark and we could see nothing.
L.C.J. Was there no tracks of it on the floor? What floor have you there?
S. It is a flagged floor and sanded, my lord, and there was an appearance of a wet track on the floor, but we could make nothing of it, neither Thomas Snell nor me, and besides, as I said, it was a foul night.
L.C.J. Well, for my part, I see not — though to be sure it is an odd tale she tells — what you would do with this evidence.
Att. My lord, we bring it to show the suspicious carriage of the prisoner immediately after the disappearance of the murdered person: and we ask the jury’s consideration of that; and also to the matter of the voice heard without the house.
Then the prisoner asked some questions not very material, and Thomas Snell was next called, who gave evidence to the same effect as Mrs Arscott, and added the following:
Att. Did anything pass between you and the prisoner during the time Mrs Arscott was out of the room?
Th. I had a piece of twist in my pocket.
Att. Twist of what?
Th. Twist of tobacco, sir, and I felt a disposition to take a pipe of tobacco. So I found a pipe on the chimney-piece, and being it was twist, and in regard of me having by an oversight left my knife at my house, and me not having over many teeth to pluck at it, as your lordship or anyone else may have a view by their own eyesight —
L.C.J. What is the man talking about? Come to the matter, fellow! Do you think we sit here to look at your teeth?
Th. No, my lord, nor I would not you should do, God forbid! I know your honours have better employment, and better teeth, I would not wonder.
L.C.J. Good God, what a man is this! Yes, I have better teeth, and that you shall find if you keep not to the purpose.
Th. I humbly ask pardon, my lord, but so it was. And I took upon me, thinking no harm, to ask Squire Martin to lend me his knife to cut my tobacco. And he felt first of one pocket and then of another and it was not there at all. And says I, ‘What! have you lost your knife, Squire?’ And up he gets and feels again and he sat down, and such a groan as he gave. ‘Good God!’ he says, ‘I must have left it there.’ ‘But,’ says I, ‘Squire, by all appearance it is not there. Did you set a value on it,’ says I, ‘you might have it cried.’ But he sat there and put his head between his hands and seemed to take no notice to what I said. And then it was Mistress Arscott come tracking back out of the kitchen place.
Asked if he heard the voice singing outside the house, he said ‘No,’ but the door into the kitchen was shut, and there was a high wind: but says that no one could mistake Ann Clark’s voice.
Then a boy, William Reddaway, about thirteen years of age, was called, and by the usual questions, put by the Lord Chief Justice, it was ascertained that he knew the nature of an oath. And so he was sworn. His evidence referred to a time about a week later.
Att. Now, child, don’t be frighted: there is no one here will hurt you if you speak the truth.
L.C.J. Ay, if he speak the truth. But remember, child, thou art in the presence of the great God of heaven and earth, that hath the keys of hell, and of us that are the king’s officers, and have the keys of Newgate; and remember, too, there is a man’s life in question; and if thou tellest a lie, and by that means he comes to an ill end, thou art no better than his murderer; and so speak the truth.
Att. Tell the jury what you know, and speak out. Where were you on the evening of the 23rd of May last?
L.C.J. Why, what does such a boy as this know of days. Can you mark the day, boy?
W. Yes, my lord, it was the day before our feast, and I was to spend sixpence there, and that falls a month before Midsummer Day.
One of the Jury. My lord, we cannot hear what he says.
L.C.J. He says he remembers the day because it was the day before the feast they had there, and he had sixpence to lay out. Set him up on the table there. Well, child, and where wast thou then?
W. Keeping cows on the moor, my lord.
But, the boy using the country speech, my lord could not well apprehend him, and so asked if there was anyone that could interpret him, and it was answered the parson of the parish was there, and he was accordingly sworn and so the evidence given. The boy said:
‘I was on the moor about six o’clock, and sitting behind a bush of furze near a pond of water: and the prisoner came very cautiously and looking about him, having something like a long pole in his hand, and stopped a good while as if he would be listening, and then began to feel in the water with the pole: and I being very near the water — not above five yards — heard as if the pole struck up against something that made a wallowing sound, and the prisoner dropped the pole and threw himself on the ground, and rolled himself about very strangely with his hands to his ears, and so after a while got up and went creeping away.’
Asked if he had had any communication with the prisoner, ‘Yes, a day or two before, the prisoner, hearing I was used to be on the moor, he asked me if I had seen a knife laying about, and said he would give sixpence to find it. And I said I had not seen any such thing, but I would ask about. Then he said he would give me sixpence to say nothing, and so he did.’
L.C.J. And was that the sixpence you were to lay out at the feast?
W. Yes, if you please, my lord.
Asked if he had observed anything particular as to the pond of water, he said, ‘No, except that it begun to have a very ill smell and the cows would not drink of it for some days before.’
Asked if he had ever seen the prisoner and Ann Clark in company together, he began to cry very much, and it was a long time before they could get him to speak intelligibly. At last the parson of the parish, Mr Matthews, got him to be quiet, and the question being put to him again, he said he had seen Ann Clark waiting on the moor for the prisoner at some way off, several times since last Christmas.
Att. Did you see her close, so as to be sure it was she?
W. Yes, quite sure.
L.C.J. How quite sure, child?
W. Because she would stand and jump up and down and clap her arms like a goose [which he called by some country name: but the parson explained it to be a goose]. And then she was of such a shape that it could not be no one else.
Att. What was the last time that you so saw her?
Then the witness began to cry again and clung very much to Mr Matthews, who bid him not be frightened.
And so at last he told his story: that on the day before their feast (being the same evening that he had before spoken of) after the prisoner had gone away, it being then twilight and he very desirous to get home, but afraid for the present to stir from where he was lest the prisoner should see him, remained some few minutes behind the bush, looking on the pond, and saw something dark come up out of the water at the edge of the pond farthest away from him, and so up the bank. And when it got to the top where he could see it plain against the sky, it stood up and flapped the arms up and down, and then run off very swiftly in the same direction the prisoner had taken: and being asked very strictly who he took it to be, he said upon his oath that it could be nobody but Ann Clark.
Thereafter his master was called, and gave evidence that the boy had come home very late that evening and been chided for it, and that he seemed very much amazed, but could give no account of the reason.
Att. My lord, we have done with our evidence for the King.
Then the Lord Chief Justice called upon the prisoner to make his defence; which he did, though at no great length, and in a very halting way, saying that he hoped the jury would not go about to take his life on the evidence of a parcel of country people and children that would believe any idle tale; and that he had been very much prejudiced in his trial; at which the L.C.J. interrupted him, saying that he had had singular favour shown to him in having his trial removed from Exeter, which the prisoner acknowledging, said that he meant rather that since he was brought to London there had not been care taken to keep him secured from interruption and disturbance. Upon which the L.C.J. ordered the Marshal to be called, and questioned him about the safe keeping of the prisoner, but could find nothing: except the Marshal said that he had been informed by the underkeeper that they had seen a person outside his door or going up the stairs to it: but there was no possibility the person should have got in. And it being inquired further what sort of person this might be, the Marshal could not speak to it save by hearsay, which was not allowed. And the prisoner, being asked if this was what he meant, said no, he knew nothing of that, but it was very hard that a man should not be suffered to be at quiet when his life stood on it. But it was observed he was very hasty in his denial. And so he said no more, and called no witnesses. Whereupon the Attorney–General spoke to the jury. [A full report of what he said is given, and, if time allowed, I would extract that portion in which he dwells on the alleged appearance of the murdered person: he quotes some authorities of ancient date, as St Augustine de cura pro mortuis gerenda (a favourite book of reference with the old writers on the supernatural) and also cites some cases which may be seen in Glanvil’s, but more conveniently in Mr Lang’s books. He does not, however, tell us more of those cases than is to be found in print.]
The Lord Chief Justice then summed up the evidence for the jury. His speech, again, contains nothing that I find worth copying out: but he was naturally impressed with the singular character of the evidence, saying that he had never heard such given in his experience; but that there was nothing in law to set it aside, and that the jury must consider whether they believed these witnesses or not.
And the jury after a very short consultation brought the prisoner in Guilty.
So he was asked whether he had anything to say in arrest of judgement, and pleaded that his name was spelt wrong in the indictment, being Martin with an I, whereas it should be with a Y. But this was overruled as not material, Mr Attorney saying, moreover, that he could bring evidence to show that the prisoner by times wrote it as it was laid in the indictment. And, the prisoner having nothing further to offer, sentence of death was passed upon him, and that he should be hanged in chains upon a gibbet near the place where the fact was committed, and that execution should take place upon the 28th December next ensuing, being Innocents’ Day.
Thereafter the prisoner being to all appearance in a state of desperation, made shift to ask the L.C.J. that his relations might be allowed to come to him during the short time he had to live.
L.C.J. Ay, with all my heart, so it be in the presence of the keeper; and Ann Clark may come to you as well, for what I care.
At which the prisoner broke out and cried to his lordship not to use such words to him, and his lordship very angrily told him he deserved no tenderness at any man’s hands for a cowardly butcherly murderer that had not the stomach to take the reward of his deeds: ‘and I hope to God,’ said he, ‘that she will be with you by day and by night till an end is made of you.’ Then the prisoner was removed, and, so far as I saw, he was in a swound, and the Court broke up.
I cannot refrain from observing that the prisoner during all the time of the trial seemed to be more uneasy than is commonly the case even in capital causes: that, for example, he was looking narrowly among the people and often turning round very sharply, as if some person might be at his ear. It was also very noticeable at this trial what a silence the people kept, and further (though this might not be otherwise than natural in that season of the year), what a darkness and obscurity there was in the court room, lights being brought in not long after two o’clock in the day, and yet no fog in the town.
It was not without interest that I heard lately from some young men who had been giving a concert in the village I speak of, that a very cold reception was accorded to the song which has been mentioned in this narrative: ‘Madam, will you walk?’ It came out in some talk they had next morning with some of the local people that that song was regarded with an invincible repugnance; it was not so, they believed, at North Tawton, but here it was reckoned to be unlucky. However, why that view was taken no one had the shadow of an idea.
About fifteen years ago, on a date late in August or early in September, a train drew up at Wilsthorpe, a country station in Eastern England. Out of it stepped (with other passengers) a rather tall and reasonably good-looking young man, carrying a handbag and some papers tied up in a packet. He was expecting to be met, one would say, from the way in which he looked about him: and he was, as obviously, expected. The stationmaster ran forward a step or two, and then, seeming to recollect himself, turned and beckoned to a stout and consequential person with a short round beard who was scanning the train with some appearance of bewilderment. ‘Mr Cooper,’ he called out — ‘Mr Cooper, I think this is your gentleman’; and then to the passenger who had just alighted, ‘Mr Humphreys, sir? Glad to bid you welcome to Wilsthorpe. There’s a cart from the Hall for your luggage, and here’s Mr Cooper, what I think you know.’ Mr Cooper had hurried up, and now raised his hat and shook hands. ‘Very pleased, I’m sure,’ he said, ‘to give the echo to Mr Palmer’s kind words. I should have been the first to render expression to them but for the face not being familiar to me, Mr Humphreys. May your residence among us be marked as a red-letter day, sir.’ ‘Thank you very much, Mr Cooper,’ said Humphreys, ‘for your good wishes, and Mr Palmer also. I do hope very much that this change of — er — tenancy — which you must all regret, I am sure — will not be to the detriment of those with whom I shall be brought in contact.’ He stopped, feeling that the words were not fitting themselves together in the happiest way, and Mr Cooper cut in, ‘Oh, you may rest satisfied of that, Mr Humphreys. I’ll take it upon myself to assure you, sir, that a warm welcome awaits you on all sides. And as to any change of propriety turning out detrimental to the neighbourhood, well, your late uncle —’ And here Mr Cooper also stopped, possibly in obedience to an inner monitor, possibly because Mr Palmer, clearing his throat loudly, asked Humphreys for his ticket. The two men left the little station, and — at Humphreys’ suggestion — decided to walk to Mr Cooper’s house, where luncheon was awaiting them.
The relation in which these personages stood to each other can be explained in a very few lines. Humphreys had inherited — quite unexpectedly — a property from an uncle: neither the property nor the uncle had he ever seen. He was alone in the world — a man of good ability and kindly nature, whose employment in a Government office for the last four or five years had not gone far to fit him for the life of a country gentleman. He was studious and rather diffident, and had few out-of-door pursuits except golf and gardening. To-day he had come down for the first time to visit Wilsthorpe and confer with Mr Cooper, the bailiff, as to the matters which needed immediate attention. It may be asked how this came to be his first visit? Ought he not in decency to have attended his uncle’s funeral? The answer is not far to seek: he had been abroad at the time of the death, and his address had not been at once procurable. So he had put off coming to Wilsthorpe till he heard that all things were ready for him. And now we find him arrived at Mr Cooper’s comfortable house, facing the parsonage, and having just shaken hands with the smiling Mrs and Miss Cooper.
During the minutes that preceded the announcement of luncheon the party settled themselves on elaborate chairs in the drawing-room, Humphreys, for his part, perspiring quietly in the consciousness that stock was being taken of him.
‘I was just saying to Mr Humphreys, my dear,’ said Mr Cooper, ‘that I hope and trust that his residence among us here in Wilsthorpe will be marked as a red-letter day.’
‘Yes, indeed, I’m sure,’ said Mrs Cooper heartily, ‘and many, many of them.’
Miss Cooper murmured words to the same effect, and Humphreys attempted a pleasantry about painting the whole calendar red, which, though greeted with shrill laughter, was evidently not fully understood. At this point they proceeded to luncheon.
‘Do you know this part of the country at all, Mr Humphreys?’ said Mrs Cooper, after a short interval. This was a better opening.
‘No, I’m sorry to say I do not,’ said Humphreys. ‘It seems very pleasant, what I could see of it coming down in the train.’
‘Oh, it is a pleasant part. Really, I sometimes say I don’t know a nicer district, for the country; and the people round, too: such a quantity always going on. But I’m afraid you’ve come a little late for some of the better garden parties, Mr Humphreys.’
‘I suppose I have; dear me, what a pity!’ said Humphreys, with a gleam of relief; and then, feeling that something more could be got out of this topic, ‘But after all, you see, Mrs Cooper, even if I could have been here earlier, I should have been cut off from them, should I not? My poor uncle’s recent death, you know —’
‘Oh dear, Mr Humphreys, to be sure; what a dreadful thing of me to say!’ (And Mr and Miss Cooper seconded the proposition inarticulately.) ‘What must you have thought? I am sorry: you must really forgive me.’
‘Not at all, Mrs Cooper, I assure you. I can’t honestly assert that my uncle’s death was a great grief to me, for I had never seen him. All I meant was that I supposed I shouldn’t be expected to take part for some little time in festivities of that kind.’
‘Now, really it’s very kind of you to take it in that way, Mr Humphreys, isn’t it, George? And you do forgive me? But only fancy! You never saw poor old Mr Wilson!’
‘Never in my life; nor did I ever have a letter from him. But, by the way, you have something to forgive me for. I’ve never thanked you, except by letter, for all the trouble you’ve taken to find people to look after me at the Hall.’
‘Oh, I’m sure that was nothing, Mr Humphreys; but I really do think that you’ll find them give satisfaction. The man and his wife whom we’ve got for the butler and housekeeper we’ve known for a number of years: such a nice respectable couple, and Mr Cooper, I’m sure, can answer for the men in the stables and gardens.’
‘Yes, Mr Humphreys, they’re a good lot. The head gardener’s the only one who’s stopped on from Mr Wilson’s time. The major part of the employees, as you no doubt saw by the will, received legacies from the old gentleman and retired from their posts, and as the wife says, your housekeeper and butler are calculated to render you every satisfaction.’
‘So everything, Mr Humphreys, is ready for you to step in this very day, according to what I understood you to wish,’ said Mrs Cooper. ‘Everything, that is, except company, and there I’m afraid you’ll find yourself quite at a standstill. Only we did understand it was your intention to move in at once. If not, I’m sure you know we should have been only too pleased for you to stay here.’
‘I’m quite sure you would, Mrs Cooper, and I’m very grateful to you. But I thought I had really better make the plunge at once. I’m accustomed to living alone, and there will be quite enough to occupy my evenings — looking over papers and books and so on — for some time to come, I thought if Mr Cooper could spare the time this afternoon to go over the house and grounds with me —’
‘Certainly, certainly, Mr Humphreys. My time is your own, up to any hour you please.’
‘Till dinner-time, father, you mean,’ said Miss Cooper. ‘Don’t forget we’re going over to the Brasnetts’. And have you got all the garden keys?’
‘Are you a great gardener, Miss Cooper?’ said Mr Humphreys. ‘I wish you would tell me what I’m to expect at the Hall.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about a great gardener, Mr Humphreys: I’m very fond of flowers — but the Hall garden might be made quite lovely, I often say. It’s very old-fashioned as it is: and a great deal of shrubbery. There’s an old temple, besides, and a maze.’
‘Really? Have you explored it ever?’
‘No-o,’ said Miss Cooper, drawing in her lips and shaking her head. ‘I’ve often longed to try, but old Mr Wilson always kept it locked. He wouldn’t even let Lady Wardrop into it. (She lives near here, at Bentley, you know, and she’s a great gardener, if you like.) That’s why I asked father if he had all the keys.’
‘I see. Well, I must evidently look into that, and show you over it when I’ve learnt the way.’
‘Oh, thank you so much, Mr Humphreys! Now I shall have the laugh of Miss Foster (that’s our rector’s daughter, you know; they’re away on their holiday now — such nice people). We always had a joke between us which should be the first to get into the maze.’
‘I think the garden keys must be up at the house,’ said Mr Cooper, who had been looking over a large bunch. ‘There is a number there in the library. Now, Mr Humphreys, if you’re prepared, we might bid goodbye to these ladies and set forward on our little tour of exploration.’
As they came out of Mr Cooper’s front gate, Humphreys had to run the gauntlet — not of an organized demonstration, but of a good deal of touching of hats and careful contemplation from the men and women who had gathered in somewhat unusual numbers in the village street. He had, further, to exchange some remarks with the wife of the lodge-keeper as they passed the park gates, and with the lodge-keeper himself, who was attending to the park road. I cannot, however, spare the time to report the progress fully. As they traversed the half-mile or so between the lodge and the house, Humphreys took occasion to ask his companion some question which brought up the topic of his late uncle, and it did not take long before Mr Cooper was embarked upon a disquisition.
‘It is singular to think, as the wife was saying just now, that you should never have seen the old gentleman. And yet — you won’t misunderstand me, Mr Humphreys, I feel confident, when I say that in my opinion there would have been but little congeniality betwixt yourself and him. Not that I have a word to say in deprecation — not a single word. I can tell you what he was,’ said Mr Cooper, pulling up suddenly and fixing Humphreys with his eye. ‘Can tell you what he was in a nutshell, as the saying goes. He was a complete, thorough valentudinarian. That describes him to a T. That’s what he was, sir, a complete valentudinarian. No participation in what went on around him. I did venture, I think, to send you a few words of cutting from our local paper, which I took the occasion to contribute on his decease. If I recollect myself aright, such is very much the gist of them. But don’t, Mr Humphreys,’ continued Cooper, tapping him impressively on the chest — ‘don’t you run away with the impression that I wish to say aught but what is most creditable — most creditable — of your respected uncle and my late employer. Upright, Mr Humphreys — open as the day; liberal to all in his dealings. He had the heart to feel and the hand to accommodate. But there it was: there was the stumbling-block — his unfortunate health — or, as I might more truly phrase it, his want of health.’
‘Yes, poor man. Did he suffer from any special disorder before his last illness — which, I take it, was little more than old age?’
‘Just that, Mr Humphreys — just that. The flash flickering slowly away in the pan,’ said Cooper, with what he considered an appropriate gesture — ‘the golden bowl gradually ceasing to vibrate. But as to your other question I should return a negative answer. General absence of vitality? yes: special complaint? no, unless you reckon a nasty cough he had with him. Why, here we are pretty much at the house. A handsome mansion, Mr Humphreys, don’t you consider?’
It deserved the epithet, on the whole: but it was oddly proportioned — a very tall red-brick house, with a plain parapet concealing the roof almost entirely. It gave the impression of a town house set down in the country; there was a basement, and a rather imposing flight of steps leading up to the front door. It seemed also, owing to its height, to desiderate wings, but there were none. The stables and other offices were concealed by trees. Humphreys guessed its probable date as 1770 or thereabouts.
The mature couple who had been engaged to act as butler and cook-housekeeper were waiting inside the front door, and opened it as their new master approached. Their name, Humphreys already knew, was Calton; of their appearance and manner he formed a favourable impression in the few minutes’ talk he had with them. It was agreed that he should go through the plate and the cellar next day with Mr Calton, and that Mrs C. should have a talk with him about linen, bedding, and so on — what there was, and what there ought to be. Then he and Cooper, dismissing the Caltons for the present, began their view of the house. Its topography is not of importance to this story. The large rooms on the ground floor were satisfactory, especially the library, which was as large as the dining-room, and had three tall windows facing east. The bedroom prepared for Humphreys was immediately above it. There were many pleasant, and a few really interesting, old pictures. None of the furniture was new, and hardly any of the books were later than the seventies. After hearing of and seeing the few changes his uncle had made in the house, and contemplating a shiny portrait of him which adorned the drawing-room, Humphreys was forced to agree with Cooper that in all probability there would have been little to attract him in his predecessor. It made him rather sad that he could not be sorry — dolebat se dolere non posse — for the man who, whether with or without some feeling of kindliness towards his unknown nephew, had contributed so much to his well-being; for he felt that Wilsthorpe was a place in which he could be happy, and especially happy, it might be, in its library.
And now it was time to go over the garden: the empty stables could wait, and so could the laundry. So to the garden they addressed themselves, and it was soon evident that Miss Cooper had been right in thinking that there were possibilities. Also that Mr Cooper had done well in keeping on the gardener. The deceased Mr Wilson might not have, indeed plainly had not, been imbued with the latest views on gardening, but whatever had been done here had been done under the eye of a knowledgeable man, and the equipment and stock were excellent. Cooper was delighted with the pleasure Humphreys showed, and with the suggestions he let fall from time to time. ‘I can see,’ he said, ‘that you’ve found your meatear here, Mr Humphreys: you’ll make this place a regular signosier before very many seasons have passed over our heads. I wish Clutterham had been here — that’s the head gardener — and here he would have been of course, as I told you, but for his son’s being horse doover with a fever, poor fellow! I should like him to have heard how the place strikes you.’
‘Yes, you told me he couldn’t be here today, and I was very sorry to hear the reason, but it will be time enough tomorrow. What is that white building on the mound at the end of the grass ride? Is it the temple Miss Cooper mentioned?’
‘That it is, Mr Humphreys — the Temple of Friendship. Constructed of marble brought out of Italy for the purpose, by your late uncle’s grandfather. Would it interest you perhaps to take a turn there? You get a very sweet prospect of the park.’
The general lines of the temple were those of the Sibyl’s Temple at Tivoli, helped out by a dome, only the whole was a good deal smaller. Some ancient sepulchral reliefs were built into the wall, and about it all was a pleasant flavour of the grand tour. Cooper produced the key, and with some difficulty opened the heavy door. Inside there was a handsome ceiling, but little furniture. Most of the floor was occupied by a pile of thick circular blocks of stone, each of which had a single letter deeply cut on its slightly convex upper surface. ‘What is the meaning of these?’ Humphreys inquired.
‘Meaning? Well, all things, we’re told, have their purpose, Mr Humphreys, and I suppose these blocks have had theirs as well as another. But what that purpose is or was [Mr Cooper assumed a didactic attitude here], I, for one, should be at a loss to point out to you, sir. All I know of them — and it’s summed up in a very few words — is just this: that they’re stated to have been removed by your late uncle, at a period before I entered on the scene, from the maze. That, Mr Humphreys, is —’
‘Oh, the maze!’ exclaimed Humphreys. ‘I’d forgotten that: we must have a look at it. Where is it?’
Cooper drew him to the door of the temple, and pointed with his stick. ‘Guide your eye,’ he said (somewhat in the manner of the Second Elder in Handel’s ‘Susanna’—
Far to the west direct your straining eyes Where yon tall holm-tree rises to the skies)
‘Guide your eye by my stick here, and follow out the line directly opposite to the spot where we’re standing now, and I’ll engage, Mr Humphreys, that you’ll catch the archway over the entrance. You’ll see it just at the end of the walk answering to the one that leads up to this very building. Did you think of going there at once? because if that be the case, I must go to the house and procure the key. If you would walk on there, I’ll rejoin you in a few moments’ time.’
Accordingly Humphreys strolled down the ride leading to the temple, past the garden-front of the house, and up the turfy approach to the archway which Cooper had pointed out to him. He was surprised to find that the whole maze was surrounded by a high wall, and that the archway was provided with a padlocked iron gate; but then he remembered that Miss Cooper had spoken of his uncle’s objection to letting anyone enter this part of the garden. He was now at the gate, and still Cooper came not. For a few minutes he occupied himself in reading the motto cut over the entrance, Secretum meum mihi et filiis domus meae, and in trying to recollect the source of it. Then he became impatient and considered the possibility of scaling the wall. This was clearly not worth while; it might have been done if he had been wearing an older suit: or could the padlock — a very old one — be forced? No, apparently not: and yet, as he gave a final irritated kick at the gate, something gave way, and the lock fell at his feet. He pushed the gate open inconveniencing a number of nettles as he did so, and stepped into the enclosure.
It was a yew maze, of circular form, and the hedges, long untrimmed, had grown out and upwards to a most unorthodox breadth and height. The walks, too, were next door to impassable. Only by entirely disregarding scratches, nettle-stings, and wet, could Humphreys force his way along them; but at any rate this condition of things, he reflected, would make it easier for him to find his way out again, for he left a very visible track. So far as he could remember, he had never been in a maze before, nor did it seem to him now that he had missed much. The dankness and darkness, and smell of crushed goosegrass and nettles were anything but cheerful. Still, it did not seem to be a very intricate specimen of its kind. Here he was (by the way, was that Cooper arrived at last? No!) very nearly at the heart of it, without having taken much thought as to what path he was following. Ah! there at last was the centre, easily gained. And there was something to reward him. His first impression was that the central ornament was a sundial; but when he had switched away some portion of the thick growth of brambles and bindweed that had formed over it, he saw that it was a less ordinary decoration. A stone column about four feet high, and on the top of it a metal globe — copper, to judge by the green patina — engraved, and finely engraved too, with figures in outline, and letters. That was what Humphreys saw, and a brief glance at the figures convinced him that it was one of those mysterious things called celestial globes, from which, one would suppose, no one ever yet derived any information about the heavens. However, it was too dark — at least in the maze — for him to examine this curiosity at all closely, and besides, he now heard Cooper’s voice, and sounds as of an elephant in the jungle. Humphreys called to him to follow the track he had beaten out, and soon Cooper emerged panting into the central circle. He was full of apologies for his delay; he had not been able, after all, to find the key. ‘But there!’ he said, ‘you’ve penetrated into the heart of the mystery unaided and unannealed, as the saying goes. Well! I suppose it’s a matter of thirty to forty years since any human foot has trod these precincts. Certain it is that I’ve never set foot in them before. Well, well! what’s the old proverb about angels fearing to tread? It’s proved true once again in this case.’ Humphreys’ acquaintance with Cooper, though it had been short, was sufficient to assure him that there was no guile in this allusion, and he forbore the obvious remark, merely suggesting that it was fully time to get back to the house for a late cup of tea, and to release Cooper for his evening engagement. They left the maze accordingly, experiencing well-nigh the same ease in retracing their path as they had in coming in.
‘Have you any idea,’ Humphreys asked, as they went towards the house, ‘why my uncle kept that place so carefully locked?’
Cooper pulled up, and Humphreys felt that he must be on the brink of a revelation.
‘I should merely be deceiving you, Mr Humphreys, and that to no good purpose, if I laid claim to possess any information whatsoever on that topic. When I first entered upon my duties here, some eighteen years back, that maze was word for word in the condition you see it now, and the one and only occasion on which the question ever arose within my knowledge was that of which my girl made mention in your hearing. Lady Wardrop — I’ve not a word to say against her — wrote applying for admission to the maze. Your uncle showed me the note — a most civil note — everything that could be expected from such a quarter. “Cooper,” he said, “I wish you’d reply to that note on my behalf.” “Certainly Mr Wilson,” I said, for I was quite inured to acting as his secretary, “what answer shall I return to it?” “Well,” he said, “give Lady Wardrop my compliments, and tell her that if ever that portion of the grounds is taken in hand I shall be happy to give her the first opportunity of viewing it, but that it has been shut up now for a number of years, and I shall be grateful to her if she kindly won’t press the matter.” That, Mr Humphreys, was your good uncle’s last word on the subject, and I don’t think I can add anything to it. Unless,’ added Cooper, after a pause, ‘it might be just this: that, so far as I could form a judgement, he had a dislike (as people often will for one reason or another) to the memory of his grandfather, who, as I mentioned to you, had that maze laid out. A man of peculiar teenets, Mr Humphreys, and a great traveller. You’ll have the opportunity, on the coming Sabbath, of seeing the tablet to him in our little parish church; put up it was some long time after his death.’
‘Oh! I should have expected a man who had such a taste for building to have designed a mausoleum for himself.’
‘Well, I’ve never noticed anything of the kind you mention; and, in fact, come to think of it, I’m not at all sure that his resting-place is within our boundaries at all: that he lays in the vault I’m pretty confident is not the case. Curious now that I shouldn’t be in a position to inform you on that heading! Still, after all, we can’t say, can we, Mr Humphreys, that it’s a point of crucial importance where the pore mortal coils are bestowed?’
At this point they entered the house, and Cooper’s speculations were interrupted.
Tea was laid in the library, where Mr Cooper fell upon subjects appropriate to the scene. ‘A fine collection of books! One of the finest, I’ve understood from connoisseurs, in this part of the country; splendid plates, too, in some of these works. I recollect your uncle showing me one with views of foreign towns — most absorbing it was: got up in first-rate style. And another all done by hand, with the ink as fresh as if it had been laid on yesterday, and yet, he told me, it was the work of some old monk hundreds of years back. I’ve always taken a keen interest in literature myself. Hardly anything to my mind can compare with a good hour’s reading after a hard day’s work; far better than wasting the whole evening at a friend’s house — and that reminds me, to be sure. I shall be getting into trouble with the wife if I don’t make the best of my way home and get ready to squander away one of these same evenings! I must be off, Mr Humphreys.’
‘And that reminds me,’ said Humphreys, ‘if I’m to show Miss Cooper the maze tomorrow we must have it cleared out a bit. Could you say a word about that to the proper person?’
‘Why, to be sure. A couple of men with scythes could cut out a track tomorrow morning. I’ll leave word as I pass the lodge, and I’ll tell them, what’ll save you the trouble, perhaps, Mr Humphreys, of having to go up and extract them yourself: that they’d better have some sticks or a tape to mark out their way with as they go on.’
‘A very good idea! Yes, do that; and I’ll expect Mrs and Miss Cooper in the afternoon, and yourself about half-past ten in the morning.’
‘It’ll be a pleasure, I’m sure, both to them and to myself, Mr Humphreys. Good night!’
Humphreys dined at eight. But for the fact that it was his first evening, and that Calton was evidently inclined for occasional conversation, he would have finished the novel he had bought for his journey. As it was, he had to listen and reply to some of Calton’s impressions of the neighbourhood and the season: the latter, it appeared, was seasonable, and the former had changed considerably — and not altogether for the worse — since Calton’s boyhood (which had been spent there). The village shop in particular had greatly improved since the year 1870. It was now possible to procure there pretty much anything you liked in reason: which was a conveniency, because suppose anythink was required of a suddent (and he had known such things before now), he (Calton) could step down there (supposing the shop to be still open), and order it in, without he borrered it of the Rectory, whereas in earlier days it would have been useless to pursue such a course in respect of anything but candles, or soap, or treacle, or perhaps a penny child’s picture-book, and nine times out of ten it’d be something more in the nature of a bottle of whisky you’d be requiring; leastways — On the whole Humphreys thought he would be prepared with a book in future.
The library was the obvious place for the after-dinner hours. Candle in hand and pipe in mouth, he moved round the room for some time, taking stock of the titles of the books. He had all the predisposition to take interest in an old library, and there was every opportunity for him here to make systematic acquaintance with one, for he had learned from Cooper that there was no catalogue save the very superficial one made for purposes of probate. The drawing up of a catalogue raisonné would be a delicious occupation for winter. There were probably treasures to be found, too: even manuscripts, if Cooper might be trusted.
As he pursued his round the sense came upon him (as it does upon most of us in similar places) of the extreme unreadableness of a great portion of the collection. ‘Editions of Classics and Fathers, and Picart’s Religious Ceremonies, and the Harleian Miscellany, I suppose are all very well, but who is ever going to read Tostatus Abulensis, or Pineda on Job, or a book like this?’ He picked out a small quarto, loose in the binding, and from which the lettered label had fallen off; and observing that coffee was waiting for him, retired to a chair. Eventually he opened the book. It will be observed that his condemnation of it rested wholly on external grounds. For all he knew it might have been a collection of unique plays, but undeniably the outside was blank and forbidding. As a matter of fact, it was a collection of sermons or meditations, and mutilated at that, for the first sheet was gone. It seemed to belong to the latter end of the seventeenth century. He turned over the pages till his eye was caught by a marginal note: ‘A Parable of this Unhappy Condition,’ and he thought he would see what aptitudes the author might have for imaginative composition. ‘I have heard or read,’ so ran the passage, ‘whether in the way of Parable or true Relation I leave my Reader to judge, of a Man who, like Theseus, in the Attick Tale, should adventure himself, into a Labyrinth or Maze: and such an one indeed as was not laid out in the Fashion of our Topiary artists of this Age, but of a wide compass, in which, moreover, such unknown Pitfalls and Snares, nay, such ill-omened Inhabitants were commonly thought to lurk as could only be encountered at the Hazard of one’s very life. Now you may be sure that in such a Case the Disswasions of Friends were not wanting. “Consider of such-an-one” says a Brother “how he went the way you wot of, and was never seen more.” “Or of such another” says the Mother “that adventured himself but a little way in, and from that day forth is so troubled in his Wits that he cannot tell what he saw, nor hath passed one good Night.” “And have you never heard” cries a Neighbour “of what Faces have been seen to look out over the Palisadoes and betwixt the Bars of the Gate?” But all would not do: the Man was set upon his Purpose: for it seems it was the common fireside Talk of that Country that at the Heart and Centre of this Labyrinth there was a Jewel of such Price and Rarity that would enrich the Finder thereof for his life: and this should be his by right that could persever to come at it. What then? Quid multa? The Adventurer pass’d the Gates, and for a whole day’s space his Friends without had no news of him, except it might be by some indistinct Cries heard afar off in the Night, such as made them turn in their restless Beds and sweat for very Fear, not doubting but that their Son and Brother had put one more to the Catalogue of those unfortunates that had suffer’d shipwreck on that Voyage. So the next day they went with weeping Tears to the Clark of the Parish to order the Bell to be toll’d. And their Way took them hard by the gate of the Labyrinth: which they would have hastened by, from the Horrour they had of it, but that they caught sight of a sudden of a Man’s Body lying in the Roadway, and going up to it (with what Anticipations may be easily figured) found it to be him whom they reckoned as lost: and not dead, though he were in a Swound most like Death. They then, who had gone forth as Mourners came back rejoycing, and set to by all means to revive their Prodigal. Who, being come to himself, and hearing of their Anxieties and their Errand of that Morning, “Ay” says he “you may as well finish what you were about: for, for all I have brought back the Jewel (which he shew’d them, and ’twas indeed a rare Piece) I have brought back that with it that will leave me neither Rest at Night nor Pleasure by Day.” Whereupon they were instant with him to learn his Meaning, and where his Company should be that went so sore against his Stomach. “O” says he “’tis here in my Breast: I cannot flee from it, do what I may.” So it needed no Wizard to help them to a guess that it was the Recollection of what he had seen that troubled him so wonderfully. But they could get no more of him for a long Time but by Fits and Starts. However at long and at last they made shift to collect somewhat of this kind: that at first, while the Sun was bright, he went merrily on, and without any Difficulty reached the Heart of the Labyrinth and got the Jewel, and so set out on his way back rejoycing: but as the Night fell, wherein all the Beasts of the Forest do move, he begun to be sensible of some Creature keeping Pace with him and, as he thought, peering and looking upon him from the next Alley to that he was in; and that when he should stop, this Companion should stop also, which put him in some Disorder of his Spirits. And, indeed, as the Darkness increas’d, it seemed to him that there was more than one, and, it might be, even a whole Band of such Followers: at least so he judg’d by the Rustling and Cracking that they kept among the Thickets; besides that there would be at a Time a Sound of Whispering, which seem’d to import a Conference among them. But in regard of who they were or what Form they were of, he would not be persuaded to say what he thought. Upon his Hearers asking him what the Cries were which they heard in the Night (as was observ’d above) he gave them this Account: That about Midnight (so far as he could judge) he heard his Name call’d from a long way off, and he would have been sworn it was his Brother that so call’d him. So he stood still and hilloo’d at the Pitch of his Voice, and he suppos’d that the Echo, or the Noyse of his Shouting, disguis’d for the Moment any lesser sound; because, when there fell a Stillness again, he distinguish’d a Trampling (not loud) of running Feet coming very close behind him, wherewith he was so daunted that himself set off to run, and that he continued till the Dawn broke. Sometimes when his Breath fail’d him, he would cast himself flat on his Face, and hope that his Pursuers might over-run him in the Darkness, but at such a Time they would regularly make a Pause, and he could hear them pant and snuff as it had been a Hound at Fault: which wrought in him so extream an Horrour of mind, that he would be forc’d to betake himself again to turning and doubling, if by any Means he might throw them off the Scent. And, as if this Exertion was in itself not terrible enough, he had before him the constant Fear of falling into some Pit or Trap, of which he had heard, and indeed seen with his own Eyes that there were several, some at the sides and other in the Midst of the Alleys. So that in fine (he said) a more dreadful Night was never spent by Mortal Creature than that he had endur’d in that Labyrinth; and not that Jewel which he had in his Wallet, nor the richest that was ever brought out of the Indies, could be a sufficient Recompence to him for the Pains he had suffered.
‘I will spare to set down the further Recital of this Man’s Troubles, inasmuch as I am confident my Reader’s Intelligence will hit the Parallel I desire to draw. For is not this Jewel a just Emblem of the Satisfaction which a Man may bring back with him from a Course of this World’s Pleasures? and will not the Labyrinth serve for an Image of the World itself wherein such a Treasure (if we may believe the common Voice) is stored up?’
At about this point Humphreys thought that a little Patience would be an agreeable change, and that the writer’s ‘improvement’ of his Parable might be left to itself. So he put the book back in its former place, wondering as he did so whether his uncle had ever stumbled across that passage; and if so, whether it had worked on his fancy so much as to make him dislike the idea of a maze, and determine to shut up the one in the garden. Not long afterwards he went to bed.
The next day brought a morning’s hard work with Mr Cooper, who, if exuberant in language, had the business of the estate at his fingers’ ends. He was very breezy this morning, Mr Cooper was: had not forgotten the order to clear out the maze — the work was going on at that moment: his girl was on the tentacles of expectation about it. He also hoped that Humphreys had slept the sleep of the just, and that we should be favoured with a continuance of this congenial weather. At luncheon he enlarged on the pictures in the dining-room, and pointed out the portrait of the constructor of the temple and the maze. Humphreys examined this with considerable interest. It was the work of an Italian, and had been painted when old Mr Wilson was visiting Rome as a young man. (There was, indeed, a view of the Colosseum in the background.) A pale thin face and large eyes were the characteristic features. In the hand was a partially unfolded roll of paper, on which could be distinguished the plan of a circular building, very probably the temple, and also part of that of a labyrinth. Humphreys got up on a chair to examine it, but it was not painted with sufficient clearness to be worth copying. It suggested to him, however, that he might as well make a plan of his own maze and hang it in the hall for the use of visitors.
This determination of his was confirmed that same afternoon; for when Mrs and Miss Cooper arrived, eager to be inducted into the maze, he found that he was wholly unable to lead them to the centre. The gardeners had removed the guide-marks they had been using, and even Clutterham, when summoned to assist, was as helpless as the rest. ‘The point is, you see, Mr Wilson — I should say ‘Umphreys — these mazes is purposely constructed so much alike, with a view to mislead. Still, if you’ll foller me, I think I can put you right. I’ll just put my ‘at down ’ere as a starting-point.’ He stumped off, and after five minutes brought the party safe to the hat again. ‘Now that’s a very peculiar thing,’ he said, with a sheepish laugh. ‘I made sure I’d left that ‘at just over against a bramble-bush, and you can see for yourself there ain’t no bramble-bush not in this walk at all. If you’ll allow me, Mr Humphreys — that’s the name, ain’t it, sir? — I’ll just call one of the men in to mark the place like.’
William Crack arrived, in answer to repeated shouts. He had some difficulty in making his way to the party. First he was seen or heard in an inside alley, then, almost at the same moment, in an outer one. However, he joined them at last, and was first consulted without effect and then stationed by the hat, which Clutterham still considered it necessary to leave on the ground. In spite of this strategy, they spent the best part of three-quarters of an hour in quite fruitless wanderings, and Humphreys was obliged at last, seeing how tired Mrs Cooper was becoming, to suggest a retreat to tea, with profuse apologies to Miss Cooper. ‘At any rate you’ve won your bet with Miss Foster,’ he said; ‘you have been inside the maze; and I promise you the first thing I do shall be to make a proper plan of it with the lines marked out for you to go by.’ ‘That’s what’s wanted, sir,’ said Clutterham, ‘someone to draw out a plan and keep it by them. It might be very awkward, you see, anyone getting into that place and a shower of rain come on, and them not able to find their way out again; it might be hours before they could be got out, without you’d permit of me makin’ a short cut to the middle: what my meanin’ is, takin’ down a couple of trees in each ‘edge in a straight line so as you could git a clear view right through. Of course that’d do away with it as a maze, but I don’t know as you’d approve of that.’
‘No, I won’t have that done yet: I’ll make a plan first, and let you have a copy. Later on, if we find occasion, I’ll think of what you say.’
Humphreys was vexed and ashamed at the fiasco of the afternoon, and could not be satisfied without making another effort that evening to reach the centre of the maze. His irritation was increased by finding it without a single false step. He had thoughts of beginning his plan at once; but the light was fading, and he felt that by the time he had got the necessary materials together, work would be impossible.
Next morning accordingly, carrying a drawing-board, pencils, compasses, cartridge paper, and so forth (some of which had been borrowed from the Coopers and some found in the library cupboards), he went to the middle of the maze (again without any hesitation), and set out his materials. He was, however, delayed in making a start. The brambles and weeds that had obscured the column and globe were now all cleared away, and it was for the first time possible to see clearly what these were like. The column was featureless, resembling those on which sundials are usually placed. Not so the globe. I have said that it was finely engraved with figures and inscriptions, and that on a first glance Humphreys had taken it for a celestial globe: but he soon found that it did not answer to his recollection of such things. One feature seemed familiar; a winged serpent — Draco — encircled it about the place which, on a terrestrial globe, is occupied by the equator: but on the other hand, a good part of the upper hemisphere was covered by the outspread wings of a large figure whose head was concealed by a ring at the pole or summit of the whole. Around the place of the head the words princeps tenebrarum could be deciphered. In the lower hemisphere there was a space hatched all over with cross-lines and marked as umbra mortis. Near it was a range of mountains, and among them a valley with flames rising from it. This was lettered (will you be surprised to learn it?) vallis filiorum Hinnom. Above and below Draco were outlined various figures not unlike the pictures of the ordinary constellations, but not the same. Thus, a nude man with a raised club was described, not as Hercules but as Cain. Another, plunged up to his middle in earth and stretching out despairing arms, was Chore, not Ophiuchus, and a third, hung by his hair to a snaky tree, was Absolon. Near the last, a man in long robes and high cap, standing in a circle and addressing two shaggy demons who hovered outside, was described as Hostanes magus (a character unfamiliar to Humphreys). The scheme of the whole, indeed, seemed to be an assemblage of the patriarchs of evil, perhaps not uninfluenced by a study of Dante. Humphreys thought it an unusual exhibition of his great-grandfather’s taste, but reflected that he had probably picked it up in Italy and had never taken the trouble to examine it closely: certainly, had he set much store by it, he would not have exposed it to wind and weather. He tapped the metal — it seemed hollow and not very thick — and, turning from it, addressed himself to his plan. After half an hour’s work he found it was impossible to get on without using a clue: so he procured a roll of twine from Clutterham, and laid it out along the alleys from the entrance to the centre, tying the end to the ring at the top of the globe. This expedient helped him to set out a rough plan before luncheon, and in the afternoon he was able to draw it in more neatly. Towards tea-time Mr Cooper joined him, and was much interested in his progress. ‘Now this —’ said Mr Cooper, laying his hand on the globe, and then drawing it away hastily. ‘Whew! Holds the heat, doesn’t it, to a surprising degree, Mr Humphreys. I suppose this metal — copper, isn’t it? — would be an insulator or conductor, or whatever they call it.’
‘The sun has been pretty strong this afternoon,’ said Humphreys, evading the scientific point, ‘but I didn’t notice the globe had got hot. No — it doesn’t seem very hot to me,’ he added.
‘Odd!’ said Mr Cooper. ‘Now I can’t hardly bear my hand on it. Something in the difference of temperament between us, I suppose. I dare say you’re a chilly subject, Mr Humphreys: I’m not: and there’s where the distinction lies. All this summer I’ve slept, if you’ll believe me, practically in statu quo, and had my morning tub as cold as I could get it. Day out and day in-let me assist you with that string.’
‘It’s all right, thanks; but if you’ll collect some of these pencils and things that are lying about I shall be much obliged. Now I think we’ve got everything, and we might get back to the house.’
They left the maze, Humphreys rolling up the clue as they went.
The night was rainy.
Most unfortunately it turned out that, whether by Cooper’s fault or not, the plan had been the one thing forgotten the evening before. As was to be expected, it was ruined by the wet. There was nothing for it but to begin again (the job would not be a long one this time). The clue therefore was put in place once more and a fresh start made. But Humphreys had not done much before an interruption came in the shape of Calton with a telegram. His late chief in London wanted to consult him. Only a brief interview was wanted, but the summons was urgent. This was annoying, yet it was not really upsetting; there was a train available in half an hour, and, unless things went very cross, he could be back, possibly by five o’clock, certainly by eight. He gave the plan to Calton to take to the house, but it was not worth while to remove the clue.
All went as he had hoped. He spent a rather exciting evening in the library, for he lighted tonight upon a cupboard where some of the rarer books were kept. When he went up to bed he was glad to find that the servant had remembered to leave his curtains undrawn and his windows open. He put down his light, and went to the window which commanded a view of the garden and the park. It was a brilliant moonlight night. In a few weeks’ time the sonorous winds of autumn would break up all this calm. But now the distant woods were in a deep stillness; the slopes of the lawns were shining with dew; the colours of some of the flowers could almost be guessed. The light of the moon just caught the cornice of the temple and the curve of its leaden dome, and Humphreys had to own that, so seen, these conceits of a past age have a real beauty. In short, the light, the perfume of the woods, and the absolute quiet called up such kind old associations in his mind that he went on ruminating them for a long, long time. As he turned from the window he felt he had never seen anything more complete of its sort. The one feature that struck him with a sense of incongruity was a small Irish yew, thin and black, which stood out like an outpost of the shrubbery, through which the maze was approached. That, he thought, might as well be away: the wonder was that anyone should have thought it would look well in that position.
However, next morning, in the press of answering letters and going over books with Mr Cooper, the Irish yew was forgotten. One letter, by the way, arrived this day which has to be mentioned. It was from that Lady Wardrop whom Miss Cooper had mentioned, and it renewed the application which she had addressed to Mr Wilson. She pleaded, in the first place, that she was about to publish a Book of Mazes, and earnestly desired to include the plan of the Wilsthorpe Maze, and also that it would be a great kindness if Mr Humphreys could let her see it (if at all) at an early date, since she would soon have to go abroad for the winter months. Her house at Bentley was not far distant, so Humphreys was able to send a note by hand to her suggesting the very next day or the day after for her visit; it may be said at once that the messenger brought back a most grateful answer, to the effect that the morrow would suit her admirably.
The only other event of the day was that the plan of the maze was successfully finished.
This night again was fair and brilliant and calm, and Humphreys lingered almost as long at his window. The Irish yew came to his mind again as he was on the point of drawing his curtains: but either he had been misled by a shadow the night before, or else the shrub was not really so obtrusive as he had fancied. Anyhow, he saw no reason for interfering with it. What he would do away with, however, was a clump of dark growth which had usurped a place against the house wall, and was threatening to obscure one of the lower range of windows. It did not look as if it could possibly be worth keeping; he fancied it dank and unhealthy, little as he could see of it.
Next day (it was a Friday — he had arrived at Wilsthorpe on a Monday) Lady Wardrop came over in her car soon after luncheon. She was a stout elderly person, very full of talk of all sorts and particularly inclined to make herself agreeable to Humphreys, who had gratified her very much by his ready granting of her request. They made a thorough exploration of the place together; and Lady Wardrop’s opinion of her host obviously rose sky-high when she found that he really knew something of gardening. She entered enthusiastically into all his plans for improvement, but agreed that it would be a vandalism to interfere with the characteristic laying-out of the ground near the house. With the temple she was particularly delighted, and, said she, ‘Do you know, Mr Humphreys, I think your bailiff must be right about those lettered blocks of stone. One of my mazes — I’m sorry to say the stupid people have destroyed it now — it was at a place in Hampshire — had the track marked out in that way. They were tiles there, but lettered just like yours, and the letters, taken in the right order, formed an inscription — what it was I forget — something about Theseus and Ariadne. I have a copy of it, as well as the plan of the maze where it was. How people can do such things! I shall never forgive you if you injure your maze. Do you know, they’re becoming very uncommon? Almost every year I hear of one being grubbed up. Now, do let’s get straight to it: or, if you’re too busy, I know my way there perfectly, and I’m not afraid of getting lost in it; I know too much about mazes for that. Though I remember missing my lunch — not so very long ago either — through getting entangled in the one at Busbury. Well, of course, if you can manage to come with me, that will be all the nicer.’
After this confident prelude justice would seem to require that Lady Wardrop should have been hopelessly muddled by the Wilsthorpe maze. Nothing of that kind happened: yet it is to be doubted whether she got all the enjoyment from her new specimen that she expected. She was interested — keenly interested — to be sure, and pointed out to Humphreys a series of little depressions in the ground which, she thought, marked the places of the lettered blocks. She told him, too, what other mazes resembled his most closely in arrangement, and explained how it was usually possible to date a maze to within twenty years by means of its plan. This one, she already knew, must be about as old as 1780, and its features were just what might be expected. The globe, furthermore, completely absorbed her. It was unique in her experience, and she pored over it for long. ‘I should like a rubbing of that,’ she said, ‘if it could possibly be made. Yes, I am sure you would be most kind about it, Mr Humphreys, but I trust you won’t attempt it on my account, I do indeed; I shouldn’t like to take any liberties here. I have the feeling that it might be resented. Now, confess,’ she went on, turning and facing Humphreys, ‘don’t you feel — haven’t you felt ever since you came in here — that a watch is being kept on us, and that if we overstepped the mark in any way there would be a — well, a pounce? No? I do; and I don’t care how soon we are outside the gate.’
‘After all,’ she said, when they were once more on their way to the house, ‘it may have been only the airlessness and the dull heat of that place that pressed on my brain. Still, I’ll take back one thing I said. I’m not sure that I shan’t forgive you after all, if I find next spring that that maze has been grubbed up.’
‘Whether or no that’s done, you shall have the plan, Lady Wardrop. I have made one, and no later than tonight I can trace you a copy.’
‘Admirable: a pencil tracing will be all I want, with an indication of the scale. I can easily have it brought into line with the rest of my plates. Many, many thanks.’
‘Very well, you shall have that tomorrow. I wish you could help me to a solution of my block-puzzle.’
‘What, those stones in the summer-house? That is a puzzle; they are in no sort of order? Of course not. But the men who put them down must have had some directions — perhaps you’ll find a paper about it among your uncle’s things. If not, you’ll have to call in somebody who’s an expert in ciphers.’
‘Advise me about something else, please,’ said Humphreys. ‘That bush-thing under the library window: you would have that away, wouldn’t you?’
‘Which? That? Oh, I think not,’ said Lady Wardrop. ‘I can’t see it very well from this distance, but it’s not unsightly.’
‘Perhaps you’re right; only, looking out of my window, just above it, last night, I thought it took up too much room. It doesn’t seem to, as one sees it from here, certainly. Very well, I’ll leave it alone for a bit.’
Tea was the next business, soon after which Lady Wardrop drove off; but, half-way down the drive, she stopped the car and beckoned to Humphreys, who was still on the front-door steps. He ran to glean her parting words, which were: ‘It just occurs to me, it might be worth your while to look at the underside of those stones. They must have been numbered, mustn’t they? Good-bye again. Home, please.’
The main occupation of this evening at any rate was settled. The tracing of the plan for Lady Wardrop and the careful collation of it with the original meant a couple of hours’ work at least. Accordingly, soon after nine Humphreys had his materials put out in the library and began. It was a still, stuffy evening; windows had to stand open, and he had more than one grisly encounter with a bat. These unnerving episodes made him keep the tail of his eye on the window. Once or twice it was a question whether there was — not a bat, but something more considerable — that had a mind to join him. How unpleasant it would be if someone had slipped noiselessly over the sill and was crouching on the floor!
The tracing of the plan was done: it remained to compare it with the original, and to see whether any paths had been wrongly closed or left open. With one finger on each paper, he traced out the course that must be followed from the entrance. There were one or two slight mistakes, but here, near the centre, was a bad confusion, probably due to the entry of the Second or Third Bat. Before correcting the copy he followed out carefully the last turnings of the path on the original. These, at least, were right; they led without a hitch to the middle space. Here was a feature which need not be repeated on the copy — an ugly black spot about the size of a shilling. Ink? No. It resembled a hole, but how should a hole be there? He stared at it with tired eyes: the work of tracing had been very laborious, and he was drowsy and oppressed . . . But surely this was a very odd hole. It seemed to go not only through the paper, but through the table on which it lay. Yes, and through the floor below that, down, and still down, even into infinite depths. He craned over it, utterly bewildered. Just as, when you were a child, you may have pored over a square inch of counterpane until it became a landscape with wooded hills, and perhaps even churches and houses, and you lost all thought of the true size of yourself and it, so this hole seemed to Humphreys for the moment the only thing in the world. For some reason it was hateful to him from the first, but he had gazed at it for some moments before any feeling of anxiety came upon him; and then it did come, stronger and stronger — a horror lest something might emerge from it, and a really agonizing conviction that a terror was on its way, from the sight of which he would not be able to escape. Oh yes, far, far down there was a movement, and the movement was upwards — towards the surface. Nearer and nearer it came, and it was of a blackish-grey colour with more than one dark hole. It took shape as a face — a human face — a burnt human face: and with the odious writhings of a wasp creeping out of a rotten apple there clambered forth an appearance of a form, waving black arms prepared to clasp the head that was bending over them. With a convulsion of despair Humphreys threw himself back, struck his head against a hanging lamp, and fell.
There was concussion of the brain, shock to the system, and a long confinement to bed. The doctor was badly puzzled, not by the symptoms, but by a request which Humphreys made to him as soon as he was able to say anything. ‘I wish you would open the ball in the maze.’ ‘Hardly room enough there, I should have thought,’ was the best answer he could summon up; ‘but it’s more in your way than mine; my dancing days are over.’ At which Humphreys muttered and turned over to sleep, and the doctor intimated to the nurses that the patient was not out of the wood yet. When he was better able to express his views, Humphreys made his meaning clear, and received a promise that the thing should be done at once. He was so anxious to learn the result that the doctor, who seemed a little pensive next morning, saw that more harm than good would be done by saving up his report. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I am afraid the ball is done for; the metal must have worn thin, I suppose. Anyhow, it went all to bits with the first blow of the chisel.’ ‘Well? go on, do!’ said Humphreys impatiently. ‘Oh! you want to know what we found in it, of course. Well, it was half full of stuff like ashes.’ ‘Ashes? What did you make of them?’ ‘I haven’t thoroughly examined them yet; there’s hardly been time: but Cooper’s made up his mind — I dare say from something I said — that it’s a case of cremation . . . Now don’t excite yourself, my good sir: yes, I must allow I think he’s probably right.’
The maze is gone, and Lady Wardrop has forgiven Humphreys; in fact, I believe he married her niece. She was right, too, in her conjecture that the stones in the temple were numbered. There had been a numeral painted on the bottom of each. Some few of these had rubbed off, but enough remained to enable Humphreys to reconstruct the inscription. It ran thus:
PENETRANS AD INTERIORA MORTIS
Grateful as Humphreys was to the memory of his uncle, he could not quite forgive him for having burnt the journals and letters of the James Wilson who had gifted Wilsthorpe with the maze and the temple. As to the circumstances of that ancestor’s death and burial no tradition survived; but his will, which was almost the only record of him accessible, assigned an unusually generous legacy to a servant who bore an Italian name.
Mr Cooper’s view is that, humanly speaking, all these many solemn events have a meaning for us, if our limited intelligence permitted of our disintegrating it, while Mr Calton has been reminded of an aunt now gone from us, who, about the year 1866, had been lost for upwards of an hour and a half in the maze at Covent Gardens, or it might be Hampton Court.
One of the oddest things in the whole series of transactions is that the book which contained the Parable has entirely disappeared. Humphreys has never been able to find it since he copied out the passage to send to Lady Wardrop.
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